Oaxacan Wood Carvings, A Tale of Two Villages

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We are often asked about the history of Oaxacan Wood Carvings. As with many aspects of Mexican culture, the origins of these colorful, collectible creatures are fused with myths and facts. The following is an account that is as accurate as possible from a world where history is verbal more often than written.

For centuries, the poor in Mexico have used organic materials to fashion tools, utensils, religious artifacts and toys. So begins the story of Oaxacan Wood Carvings.

In the valley of Oaxaca, there are two rural villages, Arrazola located 30 minutes outside the city of Oaxaca in the shadows of Monte Alban, and San Martin Tilcajete located 45 minutes on the opposite side of Oaxaca. Both have become renowned for their highly collectible wood carvings. The history of how Oaxacan Wood Carvings became part of Mexico's heritage of popular art, centers on two men, Manual Jimenez, a farmer in Arrazola and Epifanio Fuentes, a farmer in San Martin Tilcajete.

Manuel Jimenez began carving as a young man developing his skill and using his imagination to create religious figures and toys. As with many rural farmers, Manuel tried many occupations in addition to farming: cane cutter, barber, musician, and carver. He experimented with a number of woods and discovered a native brush wood, copalillo, to be perfect for his creations. After having carved for many years and trying to sell his wares in Oaxaca and Monte Alban, he was finally "discovered" by the American folk art collector, Arthur Train who was captivated by his work. Train helped promote Manuel's career by selling his wood carvings at his store in Oaxaca. In the 1970's important collectors like Nelson Rockefeller and folk art museums purchased the work of Manuel Jimenez thereby establishing Manuel's reputation. Just a few years ago, Manual Jimenez, then in his 80's, passed away, leaving his folk art legacy to his sons, Isaias and Angelico. Both worked side by side with Manuel for years as students and later assuming the role of painting and carving Manuel's designs.

At about the same, Epifanio Fuentes, was also becoming known in folk art circles for his enchanting carved angels, signature pieces which he still produces today. Epifanio learned to carve from his father, a farmer, and used his skills to add to the farming income, as many carvers continue to do today. Eventually, Epifanio taught his wife to paint, and later his children to carve and paint creating a true family cottage industry. Several of the Fuentes sons, Zeni and Efrain in particular, enjoy international notoriety as skilled artisans.

Today, both villages have many talented carvers and painters each with their own unique style. Wood carving has improved the lives of these villagers as evidenced by newly paved roads, new schools, street lights and the prevalence of cell phones, none of which existed even 15 years ago.

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Dianne Mark has 1 articles online

Far Flung Arts is a family owned business inspired by our love of Mexico, it's people, and their joyful artistic expressions. Frequently traveling to the tiny rural villages, we continuously seek out new artists and artwork to add to our collection. Many of the artisans have become our friends whom we eagerly look forward to seeing on our journeys. For many Mexican artists, their talent provides them with a means to improve their financial well being beyond that which is provided by their traditional agrarian economy. We hope you enjoy our ever changing collection, and share our passion for this unique art. http://www.farflungarts.com/Oaxacan_Wood_Carvings_s/22.htm

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Oaxacan Wood Carvings, A Tale of Two Villages

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This article was published on 2010/04/02