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 Culture & Traditions

Alebrijes: Oaxacan Wood Carvings

After making sure the figure is completely dry the artisan proceeds to sand the figure down. Sanding can take anywhere from an hour to a whole day. This also depends on the size of the figure.

Once the figure has been sanded down, gasoline or some other type of liquid is applied to protect against insects like the moth or powder-post beetle. (This method may or may not eliminate wood boring insects. It may help but freezing the carvings is recommended )  If the wood has imperfections, it is retouched with wood putty or with the same wood dust that was left from the figure when it was sanded down, mixing it with white glue.

Once the figure is completely smooth and any imperfections have been covered, a coat of color paint is applied over it. This will serve as base for the decoration.  Brushes and paintbrushes of all sizes are used in the painting of the figures.  The decoration depends on the imagination, ability and dedication of each artisan. The amount of detail in a figure indicates the amount of time the artisan invested in the elaboration of that figure.

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The first artisans struggled greatly to find the appropriate tools and paint to create their figures. But with time decoration and carving techniques evolved.

The evolution and improvement of carving techniques is demonstrated by the way newer figures are made. In the past it was very common for artisans to assemble a figure from several pieces. Nowadays there is a tendency toward elaborating figures in a single piece; only leaving some detachable parts as the ears or the horns.

As for the painting, the first figures were colored in a rustic way using natural paint such as lime and nopal cochinilla cochineal. Maguey thorns, reed chips with tips and toothpicks were used for the decoration of points; now there are appropriate paintbrushes to carry out the dotting, the lining or the stains; of course, the only thing that you cannot substitute is the genius and the artisan’s ability.

Each artisan uses or modifies his tools in order to make it easier to capture his creativity in the wood; giving life to an un-replicable, unrepeatable and unique figure.

The artisan always puts all of his effort and heart into his work and leaves a trace of his very being in each figure that leaves his hands.
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