Alebrijes |Pedro Linares & His Magical Mexican Folk Art

If you haven’t seen the movie Coco, or travelled to Oaxaca or Mexico City, Mexico, maybe you aren’t familiar with the term “alebrijes.”  (Pronounced Al – lay – bre – hays)

And if you have watched the movie Coco, chances are you are familiar with Disney’s “spirit guides,” as alebrijes are called in the movie.

But what are alebrijes?  And are they really spirit guides?

“I saw them in a dream….They were very ugly and terrifying and they were coming toward me. I saw all kinds of ugly things.”

– Pedro Linares, December 1991 interview with the LA Times.

According to legend, alebrijes visited Mexican artist Pedro Linares in a feverish dream when he was thought to be on his deathbed in his hometown of Mexico City, Mexico.

When Linares recovered from his illness, the images of the fantastical creatures of his nightmare continued to haunt him.  “They were very ugly and terrifying and they were coming toward me.”

Unable to forget the monstrous hybrid-animals, Linares began to recreate them.

Pedro Linares sits crafting an alebrije--a magnificent red lizard with eagle's wings and a snake's mouth. Learn how to use this colorful Mexican folk art in your classroom.
Linares carves an alebrije. Click here to read the article and see additional photographs of Linares at work.

Already well-known for his cartonería–or handmade, papier-mache crafts– Linares’ alebrijes soon became more popular than his piñatas or Judas figures–satanic and often satirical figures burned each Spring.  The name “Judas” comes from the biblical account of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus Christ.

Pedro Linares' son Felipe stands beside his Judas sculpture in the family's shop in Mexico City.
Pedro Linares’ son Felipe stands beside his Judas sculpture in the family’s shop in Mexico City.

But the Linares family isn’t alone in the creation of alebrijes.  Today, many others are creating unique alebrijes of all colors, shapes, and sizes.

In Mexico City, Gabriel Guerra is hard at work creating alebrijes and teaching children about the traditional Mexican art of cartonería.

You can see more of Guerra’s artwork on his Facebook Page.

Today, you can buy unique handmade alebrijes through the NOVICA project of National Geographic.  Small alebrijes may cost you around $40 while larger and more detailed animals are sold for more than twenty-five times that much.

So now that you know a little bit about alebrijes, how can you incorporate this fantastic Mexican folklore into your Spanish, History, Language Arts, or Elementary classroom?

Check out this blog post to see some of the best Alebrije activities and resources available for download at Teachers Pay Teachers.

 

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