The second stop on our tour was the village of San Antonio Arrazola, famous for its fantastic Alebrijes, the fanciful painted woodcarvings now ubiquitous to Oaxaca.

The first 'Alebrije' was actually created by a papier mache craftman in Mexico City named Pedro Linares Lopez back in the 1930's. He made a living making pinatas and judas like his father did before him. The most popular tale tells that while very ill, Pedro had a feverish dream where he saw mythical creatures crying the name "alebrije". When he awoke and recovered from his illness, Pedro began to recreate the strange creatures as papier mache figures. His works sold locally for many years with discerning customers including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In 1975, a documentary film by Judith Bronowski gave Linares international fame. In 1990 he received the National Prize for Popular Arts and Traditions before passing away in 1992.

The Alebrije style of Oaxacan wood carving was ultimately adapted and made famous by Manuel Jimenez from Arrazola. Jimenez's talent and imagination was sponsored by an American merchant that helped him gain international recognition. He carved and painted animal figurines with a unique flare that was highly prized by collectors. Over the years, other carvers from the area have developed their own styles making Oaxacan wood carvings one of the most appreciated and sought after Mexican folk art styles.

Among the different styles developed by local artisans are the reproductions of the Linares' Alebrije. The figures range from dragons, deer, rabbits, armadillos, mermaids, devils, angels, animals with the faces of other animal or human faces,humans with animal faces, reptilian like creatures, and much more. All are painted in unusual color combinations...truly the stuff of fantasy.

The men of the village traditionally carve the figures and the women usually paint them. The carving is done with machetes and a variety of simple knifes and files. The painting is accomplished using tiny brushes and toothpicks and common off-the-shelf enamel paint. The result is stunning.


A short unannounced stop in Cuilapan came next on the agenda. Located southwest of Oaxaca lies the vast unfinished 16th-century Convento Cuilapan de Guerrero now in well-preserved ruins. The temple and convent are dedicated to Santiago Apostle who is celebrated on July 25th each year. The decorative work of the monastery, especially its murals, are important because they show a systematic blending of indigenous elements into the Christian framework, done in order to support the evangelization process in the local Mixtec and Zapotec peoples. Some say the roof of the ‘open chapel' collapsed in an earthquake. Our guide told us that the chapel was constructed with no ceiling because the indigenous people were afraid of closed spaces. Because it was imperative that the Spanish to convert local people to Christianity, the chapel was built this way in order to be more appealing to the inhabitants of the region. It's actually a beautiful space and was a nice, unexpected addition to the tour before stopping for lunch in a nearby hacienda.





  as I torture my children with a 2-hour tour of the Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca!!