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Folk Art of Mexico

Updated on January 7, 2013

Alebrijes

Alebrije is a Spanish word meaning "imaginary" or "fantasy". It is used to describe fanciful or surrealistic-looking creatures made of wood or paper mache. These imaginary animals are painted in brilliant, almost psychedelic colors and designs. They have become very popular with folk art collectors all over the world.

How the Alebrije style got started

Alebrijes were originally made out of papier mache.They were first created in the 1930's by Pedro Linares Lopez who was a pinata-maker. There is a story that Pedro had a dream while he was ill with a fever and he hallucinated weird mythical animals. Supposedly he heard the word "alebrije". After that, Pedro began to make colorful, imaginary papier mache creatures which he called alebrijes.

He created large creatures which became very popular in parades and smaller ones which became prized by collectors the world over. His customers included Mexican artists Diego River and his wife, Frida Kahlo.

The Oaxacan Wood Carvers

For hundreds of years, the Zapotec Indians of the Valley of Oaxaca have carved colorful wooden sculptures. Working with a soft wood known as "copal", they created animals, devils, saints, angels, and masks.

A cultural exchange:

During the 1980's, a poor farmer named Manuel Jimenez adopted a fantastic, surrealistic style similar to the one that Pedro Linares used to make his paper mache scultures. Other artists adopted the alebrije style. Soon entire families in the region were producing these amazing creatures.

The demand for the wood sculptures grew and the artistic work of the Oaxacan woodcarvers was recognized by collectors all over the world.

Manuel Jimenez is now considered to be the grand master of Oaxacan wood carving. His work has inspired many other artists to create work in the "alebrije" style.

Parade Alebrijes in Mexico

Watching this video transports you to a colorful Mexican parade with gigantic fanciful creatures.

Ricardo Linares

Ricardo Linares is the grandson of Don Pedro Linares, inventor of the alebrije art form in 1936. His grandfather passed on the love of creating works in paper mache to his descendants.

Ricardo has become a renowned artist in his own right, carrying on the traditional themes of his famous grandfather.

His work appears in the book, "Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art".

His website, www.mexicoartshow.com/linares explains how the paper mache alebrijes are made.

Make Your Own Alebrije

Purists insist that true alebrijes can only be made out of paper mache. However, the term has been stretched to include wild creatures made out of wood, so why not other materials as well?

Education.com shows teachers and parents how children can fashion imaginary animals out of Fimo or Sculpey clay, which can be baked in an oven and then painted.

See Education.com for this art project. When you arrive on the home page, search for "Make a Traditional Alebrije".

I like to make things out of gourds, so I made three crazy goony birds.

Websites on Mexican Folk Art - Featuring Ricardo Linares

Hear the story about Don Pedro's "dream" and see how the paper mache alebrijes are made. Learn more about this amazing artist.

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      cmadden 5 years ago

      Love the intro photo!

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 5 years ago

      beautiful lens; I learned a lot...Thx for sharing

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