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Wood carving has a special place in Mexican Folk Art. Oaxacan carvings also known as alebrijes have fascinated folk art collectors around the world, these whimsical creatures have gone beyond borders and are today one of the most popular and valued styles in Mexican crafts.
Wood sculpting in Mexico dates back from Pre-Columbian times.
The Mesoamerican great civilizations used wood to carve religious totems, masks, musical instruments and furniture, unfortunately a few pieces have been preserved, among them there are some musical instruments that can be seen in national museums.
As proof of the native talent in woodcarving, are wooden angels, saints, crosses and altars beautifully carved that can be seen in catholic churches from the colonial period.
During this time wood was used to do furniture, religious statues and masks. The masks were used in dances and representations of Christian stories that helped the priests convert the natives.
After the Independence War wood was used mostly for utilitarian uses such as furniture, plates, boxes, trays, toys and musical instruments.
Huhuetl or Aztec wooden drum, British Museum
The most representative wood carving styles today are:
Oaxacan Wood Carvings
In the late 1950's Manuel Jimenez, a peasant from San Antonio Arrazola, created a new style in Mexican Folk Art, Oaxacan wood sculptures. Carvers Isidoro Cruz from San Martin Tilcajete and Martin Santiago from La Union Tejalapan had a share in the process of making these whimsical creatures one of the best selling items in national folk art.
Oaxacan wood carvings
With the arrival of foreign tourism to Acapulco, Guerrero in the 1950's. The ceremonial wooden masks transitioned in to masks made for sale. Most of those "commercial masks" although not authentic representations of the ceremonial masks do show the creativity, imagination and culture of the mask makers. Although masks are commonly made of wood some are also made of paper mache, clay, leather and
Guerrero wooden mask
In 1920's Seris Indians from Sonora began to hand carve ironwood animals and plants. Today non Seris artisans use electric tools to sculpt the ironwood and dominate the market.
Michoacan Wooden Toys
Wooden Toys, musical instruments, Christmas ornaments and kitchen utensils are widely made in Michoacan.
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