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Oaxacan wood carvings, better known as alebrijes, have become one of the most well known art forms originating in Mexico. Pedro Linares a skilled figurine maker and friend of Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera was the first person to begin making alebrijes which were a product of his own imagination. He dreamt about fantastic imaginary and coorful animals in his dream which all repeated one word over and over. That word was "alebrije." Ever since, Pedro and his family began forming creatures out of paper mache and meticulously hand-painted each one with intricate designs and patterns.
While the traditional method of creating alebrijes still is in pratice, the more common and saught after alebrijes are the ones made of wood, specifically copal wood. Artisans of Oaxaca had already been creating wood sculptures of animals and other types of figures for centuries when they learned about alebrije art. They adopted the art form and brought it to the popularity it has to this day.
Artisans choose to work with copal wood becausue it is the easiest to carve and enable them to create much more deatailed works. The people of the town of San Martin Tilcajete and Arrazola in Oaxaca Mexico have a deep respect for mother earth and never kill trees for the sake of creating alebrijes. The wood used is sourced from tree branches and in an effort to prevent the copal tree population from declining, many artisans also plant copal trees in the fields where they reside.
Nowadays there are several talented artists in Oaxaca who carve the copal wood using machetes and knives and later paint in bright paint to create beautiful works of art sought after all around the world. Many of the artisans work alongside their family members who specialize in different parts of the process. Most of the work is split between carving and painting with several of months in between the two in order to allow the moist wood to fully dry. If any cracks result in the drying process which usually is the case, they are filled with a wide variety of glues or epoxies to prevent and further splitting in the wood and to give a uniform and smooth look to the sculture.
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