• Glenn Wilson

    Mexico is well-known for its culture of artesanías, or craftwork. In states with strong artisan cultures like Oaxaca, it’s very common to see entire towns specialize in a single type of craft to elevate the quality of their pieces, make the most of existing infrastructure, and ensure a steady inflow of buyers looking for specific products. One such town is San Martín Tilcajete, known for its alebrijes, colorful folk art carvings of fantastical creatures.

    The reason behind a particular town’s craft of choice is sometimes obvious, sometimes less so or even legendary (like in the case of Metepec and its clay mermaids). The alebrijes of San Martín Tilcajete represent the rare case of a craft whose origins are relatively modern and well-documented.

    In 1936 in Mexico City, an artist and sculptor named Pedro Linares López had a fever dream. It is unclear if it was caused by the stomach ulcer affecting him at the time, the possibly hallucinogenic remedies for said ulcer, his likely self-medicated dose of alcoholic drinks or a combination of these. In his altered state, he saw many fantastical creatures, seemingly made out of a mish-mash of real animals, all of which repeatedly chanted the word “alebrijes.” After his recovery, Linares took to his preferred medium, a type of papier-mache sculpting known locally as cartonería, and started recreating the figures he had seen in dreams.

    More at Atlas Obscura: Alebrijes of San Martín Tilcajete.

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