Alebrijes: An intricate art

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Alebrije- Armadillo

As true Tequila can only be produced in a small strip of Jalisco State and an even smaller patch of Guanajuato State, true Alebrijes come only from Oaxaca State in Mexico.

You may already know them or have seen them online or in Mexican stores, but if you haven't,  Alebrijes are colorful art works made with love and soul and wood, and then painstakingly painted often for weeks in an intricate, distinctive style making them immediately recognizable.  A few weeks ago I was in the workshop of Jacobo and Maria Angeles in San Martin Tilcajete, a small town of Zapoteco descendents located about 23 kilometers from the City of Oaxaca.   Jacobo and Maria are committed to the preservation of Zapoteco traditions through their art and use their art to support the whole community.

Apolo Bonilla, Silvia and Jacobo Angeles

Walking through their workshop I witnessed how each piece is carved and painted using ancient coloring techniques. Children learn about the art at a young age, and as they get older they learn to carve and create their own intricate designs, too.

Alebrijes sometimes look like fantastic mythical creatures or may look like an animal you know.  During our trip to San Martin Tilcajete, one of our tour guides told us about the nagual, which in the Zapotec culture is a kind of personal protector.  I asked Jacobo Angeles about this and he asked me if I wanted to know mine,  he asked me my birthday, looked in his book, and told me, along with some personality traits, “your nagual is the hummingbird.” I was happy to hear that, I like hummingbirds.

My visit to Jacobo's house was fascinating, he showed us how they carve the wood, how they mix the colors, how they treat the wood to clean it, and how they paint the carvings to create each Alebrije.

Alebrije Carver

Here is just one extraordinary example of their work:


This is Nayely, who told me the piece she was working on was a special order.  I asked her if when a person asks for a special order, does he ask for specific colors or designs and she said usually yes, but in this case, the person gave her the freedom to choose the colors and design. She told me, with a piece like this, it will take her 5 weeks to finish.

Alebrije artist

This is a picture of a jaguar before


And after

Alebrije jaguar

And here is a pic of a detail of the designs, I didn't see the little feet until I took the pic, amazing!

Alebrije Detail

I invite you to visit Jacobo Angeles' website  to learn more about this amazing art and to get information about exhibitions.

And if you have the opportunity to visit Oaxaca, visit the workshops of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, and take your kids!

Disclosure:  I´m being compensated for my work in creating content for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expense paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role.  All stories, opinions, and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own.  Mexico Today is an initiative of Marca País – Imagen de México, a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and as an unrivaled tourist destination. The program is designed to shine a light on the Mexico that its people experience every day.

Silvia Martinez
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