I want to base my branding around ‘Alebrijes’ as I have always really liked the look of these whimsical creatures. I think they would tie in great with a craft beer brand as these wooden objects are very eye catching and are made by highly skilled artisan workers that could help represent the craft beer’s quality and characteristics as well as make a visually attractive brand.
Alebrijes are very unusual and colourful wood carvings depicting animals, people, objects and imaginary creatures that are painted with very intense colours and intricate patterns. The original ones come from Mexico City with the first ones being created only as far back as the 1930s by Pedro Linares. One day he fell unconscious due to a high fever, he dreamt of a place resembling a forest where he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that turned into something strange. He saw donkeys with butterfly wings, roosters with bull horns and a lion with an eagle head with all of them shouting the word ‘Alebrijes’. After recovering he began creating the creatures he saw in his dreams using cardboard and paper mache.
Later his work was discovered by a gallery owner and caught the attention of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who commissioned Linares to build more Alebrijes. His work gathered further notoriety when British filmmaker Judith Bronowski made a documentary featuring Pedro Linares, Manuel Jiménez and textile artisan Maria Sabina from Oaxaca in 1975.
The paper mache sculptures were adopted by artisans from the Oaxaca region since the 1940s however and adapted to the carving of local wood called copal. Oaxaca had for a long time been an area with accomplished wood carvers who produced mask and other utilitarian object. One of those wood carvers, Manuel Jiménez from the town of Arrazola, saw the opportunity in the demand for the local crafts. So he started crafting animals and other figurines to sell in the markets. Jiménez maintained a monopoly on the alebrije carving until around the 1960s but the vendor he supplied to found him unreliable so they started looking elsewhere and encouraged other wood carvers from surrounding towns to make them.
‘Copaleros’ are the people that collect the copal wood, which is then dried and pieces are selected for carving. The shape of the branches used dictate the figures that are carved. For example intricate twisting shapes are good for carving lizards, cats and dragons with twisting tails. The figures are then sanded down and painted with a base of coat paint. Then a paintings are done with intricate patterns and vibrant colours. The pieces re rarly sealed and treated for insects so its not uncommon to find wood boring insects eating the alebrije inside out.
One of the most important things about these wood carved creatures is that every piece is removable. It serves as a way of telling wether the piece is carved by one of the original carvers as later carvers didn’t learn the technique of making each piece fit so well.
The labour is divided between genders. The males both old and young gather and carve the wood and has been a long established tradition in rural Oaxaca. The sanding is a much more monotonous job that is usually given to children or unskilled labor. Women usually paint the alebrijes, the more talented painters create the more complex patterns.
Some alebrijes are signed because tourist value signed pieces more. So this has become part of the tradition. However as the alebrijes would have involved many hands in the process of production, only one person signs it. That person is often the most well known i the family.