One of the popular arts for which Mexico is most famous is the wood carvings of Oaxaca. In fact, if people only know one thing about folk art from Mexico, it’s usually about the wood carvings or “alebrijes” which they’ve seen at the beach resorts or airports of coastal Mexico.
The carving of masks and children’s toys in the Oaxaca area dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, but the current expression of wood carvers in Oaxaca’s surrounding villages was started in the small town of Arrazola by Manuel Jiménez in the late 1950′s. Now, three tiny villages –Arrazola, San Martin Tilcajete, and La Union–are known for their carvings and carvers. The lives of these artisans are not easy. Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico and most of the carvers living in these villages are subsistence farmers and carve their beautiful pieces for extra income.
A few carvers have done exceedingly well and are world-renowned. This is true for Jacobo Angeles whose amazing work can take months to complete. He employs many, many family members in his lovely home in San Martin Tilcajete. His taste and ability are exquisite and his carvings are highly regarded and highly sought after. We carry the beautiful carved hummingbirds as seen below:
Jacobo’s sister, Roberta, carved this stunning nativity set and it too is exceptional in its concept and execution. Truly a unique and collectible piece.
There are many, many very skilled carvers in Oaxaca and I wish I could feature all of them. I plan to feature others in the days ahead.
Today, I want to recommend a couple of carving families in addition to the familia Angeles, and those are first, Flor and Abad Xuana and second, Aurelia and Juventino Melchor. In both of these families, the man does the carving and the woman does the painting. And in both cases, each person is an artist extraordinaire!
I’ve carried the carvings of the Xuanas before and they will always be some of my favorites. Flor is one of the tiniest people I’ve ever met and one of the most lovely. This photo was taken at the Day of the Dead show in Oaxaca.
Here are some of the lovely pieces that I purchased from Flor and are now available at Zinnia Folk Arts.
There is another couple from San Martin Tilcajete who does very nice work. They are named, Juventino and Aurelia Melchor. I especially fell in love with their bunnies and have quite a few of them in the shop. Here are two in the website shop…
For more information about Oaxacan wood carving and carvers as well as the inevitable politics of it all, you can read, Oaxacan Woodcarving by Shepard Barbash (1993). Another writer is Michael Chibnick and his book is Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings.
As always, if you have any questions, please ask!
The unpainted doll clay work of Teodora Blanco, who died in 1980, was an original in the history of Mexican folk art. She was well known while alive for creating the beautifully embellished clay “munecas” (dolls) representing Mexican women doing daily activities OR fantastic human-ish figures topped with animal heads and horns. Her unique and influential work was collected by Nelson Rockefeller and she was one of, if not the first, Mexican clay artisan to decorate her unpainted clay figures with “pastillaje” or attached decorative pieces of clay. Her exceptionally skilled children, Luis and Irma, continue her tradition today. We have numerous signed (TB) Teodora pieces acquired through an estate sale. We also have several pieces by Irma Blanco. Feel free to call or email with questions!
Generally, when the subject of folk art from Mexico comes up, people usually think of the wood carvings of Oaxaca. These colorful little ambassadors have become world-renowned as representative of Mexico and can literally be found almost everywhere. They have so saturated the thinking of what is Mexican folk art that it can be difficult to pull people away to see that the handmade arts of Mexico encompass so much more.
Did you know that this carving is from Oaxaca? No? Sadly, when one says, “wood carvings of Mexico” the carvings of artisans from the Oaxaca area bring to mind multi-colorful, overpainted, roosters with toothpicks sticking out of their backs. They come in many colors and are mostly animals with bright colors and lots of dots. Or fantastic creatures called, “alebrijes” which I’ve always found unappealing.
The Oaxacan carvings we carry at Zinnia Folk Arts are somewhat different. We prefer the more rustic carving style. This more primitive (less decorated) style comes from the tiny town of La Union, Oaxaca. Many of the carvings we carry are by the Santiago family. The pineapple lady above was carved by Eloy Santiago, and the cart below by his cousin.
The colorful musicians are another example of the more rustic style.
Another town in Oaxaca, known for its woodcarvers, is San Martin Tilcajete. And these styles, below, (hummingbird by Angeles family and tiny masks by Xuana family) are more indicative of the aesthetic in that town.
Which style do you prefer?
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Josefina Aguilar, is one of the most well-known and beloved folk artists of Mexico. She lives near Oaxaca City and is world-renowned for her clay figures of various sizes depicting people living their daily lives. She learned her craft from her mother as did her three sisters. Both she and her sister, Guillermina, have been recognized as Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art, an award given a few years ago to about Mexican 185 artisans. The charm of these pieces is contagious and many people (including the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art) have huge scenes of funerals, baptisms, weddings, and markets.
To see what we have currently available check our online store, right here!