Pedro Linares – The Heart & Soul of Mexican Folk Art

Pedro Linares was born in the La Merced area of Mexico City on June 29, 1906. Trained by his father in a family tradition passed down for generations, he became a cartonero—a craftsman of cartonería—at the young age of 12. Linares specialized in crafting piñatas, “Judas” figures and masks, and continued to do so with very little renown while living in Mexico City up until the mid-1930s.

Although Linares became well-recognized in Mexico after the popularization of his Alebrijes, it wasn’t until 1975, with the release of the documentary “Pedro Linares: Artesano Cartonero” by Judith Bronowski, that he rose to international recognition. With his growing fame, he traveled the world exhibiting his works and conducting workshops in which he taught his craft. 

Pedro linares Family

Pedro Linares grew up in Mexico city where he got married and had his children. The family was lower middle class. Like his family before him, Pedro began with piñatas, carnival masks and Judas” figures which he sold in markets such as the one in La Merced. Pedro is the pivotal figure for the Linares family due to his creation of alebrijes starting around 1936. Trained as a child by his father, Linares passed the family métier on to his three sons—Enrique, Felipe, and Miguel—who extended the imaginative possibilities of the medium. Grandsons Leonardo, Ricardo, and David have also taken up the work.  

The Evolution of Alebrijes

Pedro started the alebrijes by working on the burning of Judas ritual during Holy Week. Using the papier-mâché art form, he began constructing the strange animals from his hallucinogenic vision. 

Pedro Linares gained national and international attention following the 1975 documentary Linares: Artesano de Cartón from Judith Bronowski. Part of a documentary series on Mexican folk craft, it resulted in traveling workshops from the films’ subjects. Among them was Manuel Jiménez Ramírez, a wood sculptor who took the concept of alebrijes from Linares and began producing wooden “Oaxacan alebrijes”. Besides the material, Oaxacan alebrijes differ in being more realistic representations of animals and incorporating ideas of the nahua

The popular documentary also led to Oaxaca City woodcarvers adopting Linares’ designs. Manuel  pioneered the successful Oaxacan wooden reproductions of fanciful animal figurines. You’ll know if one is originally from a great artisan if the pieces are removable. 

Alebrijes’ innovation today involves lighted creations made of metal frames, cloth, or plastic. Who knows what the next generation of alebrijes will be? 

Pedro linares Career

Pedro Linares began his career as a maker of the effigies known as Judas figures, traditionally made of carton during the Catholic Easter season in Mexico, and by making figurines for Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and other artists from the Academia de San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Mexico City. 

Pedro started making figures known as Judas which are made of cartoons during the Catholic Easter season in Mexico. He made figures for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo among other artists from the Academia de San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Mexico City. 

The first alebrijes was made by Pedro in 1936 when he was 30 years old and was suffering from high fever due to peritonitis. The figures created due to feverish hallucinations depicted death and rebirth in a rocky setting inhabited by the creatures who looked like animals Pedro had saved in the past. When he needed them, they came and saved him by giving him his life back.

When his illness subsided, Pedro began materializing his visions and made alebrijes which gained him worldwide attention. 

In 1990, Linares was awarded the National Prize for Arts and Sciences (Premio Nacional de Ciencias y Artes) in the Popular Arts and Traditions category, the highest decoration awarded to artisans granted by the federal government of Mexico.

The Great Alebrijes Location

An annual event at the Mexican Folk Art National Museum gives an opportunity to see alebrijes. If a trip to Mexico is not in your budget, here are a couple of options to see Linares-inspired alebrijes. 

Cantigny Park

Located in Wheaton, IL, Cantigny Park offers a parkwide outdoor art exhibit featuring dozens of imaginary creatures inspired by Mexican folklore. Forty-eight alebrije sculptures, taller and larger than an SUV, are on display. 

Cantigny Park has much to offer if you’re up for a road trip to see the alebrijes’ dream world. The park has gardens, two historical museums, and a host of recreational opportunities to fill your weekend. 

Folk Art Museum of Central Texas

Located in Austin, TX, The Folk Art Museum of Central Texas has exotic works from around the world. The museum devoted a special gallery to traditional Oaxacan alebrijes. 

The museum is building a collection of inspired works by native peoples. The collection comprises objects such as masks, jewelry, figures, and textiles.

Outside Folk Gallery

You can view more folk art on Instagram at Outside Folk Art or in our Artsy gallery. As many still celebrate folk and outsider artists and give voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans. There are pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow  to discover the where and when.

Pedro Linares Lopez’s death and legacy

Pedro Linares Lopez died at an age of 85 in 1992. Pedro’s 3 children and grandkids keep following his footsteps, just as he did with his parents and grandparents. They keep making sculptures just like Pedro’s imaginative style and exhibit them in museums all around the world. 

Pedro’s children and grandchildren add their own distinct flair to Pedro’s alebrijes, such as pinatas and Calaveras. To design alebrijes that look colorful and entertaining, they employ cardboard models and other elements to display Mexican art at its best.

The life of Pedro Linares is an excellent example of how one man can influence cultural tradition. The character of his eccentric alebrijes continues to develop across the art world. 

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