DESCRIPTION: Oaxacan woodcarvings, also known as Alebrijes, have been a tradition for generations in several small villages outside the capital of Oaxaca, Mexico. It has only been in the past 40 years that these beautifully carved and painted figures have become popular, and are now collected worldwide. Using rudimentary tools, these Mexican artists create fascinating figures out of fresh-cut copal wood. After drying and sanding, the carvings are meticulously painted with intricate patterns and vibrant colors, limited only by each artist’s imagination.
This dynamic and colorful Alebrije leopard is carved with one leg held high and tail erect as he seems to turn in mid-stride. His back and legs are painted with red spots on a black ground, while his underbelly and the back of his tail are blue spots on a white ground. Other accent colors on his paws and face contribute to the overall vibrant pattern. The underside is signed, "Jose Hernandez M., E Hijos, Evaristo Hernandez J. y Eraclio HDZ J." Excellent condition. DIMENSIONS: 12" long (30.5 cm) x 10.5" high (26.7 cm) x 8" wide (20.3 cm).
CULTURAL BACKGROUND: Alebrijes are Oaxacan-Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. These whimsical carvings depicting animals, people, objects, and imaginary creatures are painted with intense colors and intricate patterns. The woodcarvings range from the simple, humorous and whimsical to exceptionally carved and ornately painted fine pieces of art by sought-after craftsmen. In the production of Alebrijes, typically males gather and carve the wood while women paint the alebrijes, with the most talented painters creating the most intricate and complex patterns. Collectors highly value the signed pieces; however, the Alebrije may have had many hands contribute to its making. Often the person who signs the alebrije is the person who is the most well known in the family or the workshop. A son may carve an alebrije in his father’s workshop, a grandson may sand it and a daughter may paint it. But if the father is the most well known carver, it is signed with his name.