Oaxacan Wonders

A mythical Mexican bestiary

Jacobo Angeles Ojeda and his wife, María del Carmen Mendoza Mendez, from the village of San Martín Tilcajete in Oaxaca, meld their talents to produce alebrijes. Alebrijes are fanciful hand-carved, hand-painted animals and figures rich in color and imagination.  This talented husband and wife team will be showing their sculptures at the 2010 Santa Fe International Folk Are Market, July 9 – 11.  See www.folkartmarket.org for more.
 
Jacopo and Maria’s mythical creatures, with their mixture of human and animal features, trace their origins to Zapotec rituals and ancient Mexican religious beliefs. These exotic carvings are said to bring good luck.
 
Jacobo uses the special wood of the copal tree to create his complex animal designs. Copal is prized for its ability to be sanded to a smooth finish, providing the perfect surface for the colorful, intricate designs that María paints onto her husband’s carvings.
 
Jacobo first attacks the wood with a machete, cutting a rough form into the raw copal before progressively working with smaller tools, including a pocketknife, to work out the final form. The twists and turns found in the copal wood itself often inspire him with fresh ideas for the whimsical creatures that he creates.
 
The next step is painting. After laying down a base coat, María uses a variety of traditional vegetal and mineral pigments to apply a myriad of intricate brushstrokes and dots. Some work includes more than a thousand dots per figure.
 
As a child, Jacobo assisted his father in making and painting an assortment of animals. After the death of his father, Jacobo became responsible for providing for the family. He taught his four younger brothers and his sister the craft as they grew up. In memory of his father, Jacobo keeps an important part of this family custom alive by still working at the table on which his father worked.
 
María and Jacobo have been working together for twenty-five years. Together, they exert a strong influence over Oaxacan artists who have taken up the making of alebrijes. Over thirty years ago, just a few artists made alebrijes. These have since become a major source of income for artists in two Oaxacan villages.
 
Jacobo and Maria’s work has been shown at the Museum of Man in San Diego, the Southwest Indian Museum in Los Angeles, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. They have also exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.
 
The Tanner-Chaney Gallery of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is underwriting their appearance at the 2010 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Please see www.folkartmarket.org for more information about the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market – July 9 – 11, 2010.
 
 

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