Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. These creatures have elements from different animals, such as dragon bodies, bat wings, wolf teeth and dog eyes. Colorfully painted, they were originally made with papier-mâché but today they may also be carved from wood.
The alebrije was originally created by Mexican artist Pedro Linares Lopez in the 1930s. Linares was a cartonero (papier-mâché crafter) from the La Merced neighborhood in Mexico City, where he made a living by making piñatas and Judas figures as his father did before him.
According to Linares, he began creating alebrijes after having a feverish dream in which colorful fantastical creatures appeared before him. He soon began to create these creatures with papier-mâché work and he sold the pieces locally for many years. In 1975, a documentary film about his life brought him fame and buyers from around the world. Linares died in 1992, but his descendants carry on the tradition of making alebrijes.
The alebrijes in this exhibit are in the tradition of Oaxacan alebrijes. This style of alebrije was pioneered by the artist Manuel Jimenez from Arrazola, a small village near Oaxaca City, Mexico. Jimenez adapted Linares’ designs into the carving of a local wood called copal. The Oaxacan alebrije is created by first carving the figure using non-mechanical hand tools such as machetes, chisels and knives, and then leaving the figure to dry for up to ten months, depending on its overall size and thickness. In the final step, the figures are painted in two layers, with a solid undercoat and a multicolored designed superimposed. Originally, Oaxaca woodcarvings were painted with aniline paints made with natural ingredients, but more recently carvers primarily use acrylics which, resist fading and can withstand repeated cleanings.