Residing in San Antonio Arrazola, a town in Oaxaca, Mexico, master carver Armando Jimenez is known for his brightly painted, whimsical sculptures.
He is the grandson of Manuel Jimenez, who was a much-celebrated carver in the middle of the twentieth century, with clients including Nelson Rockefeller. The Jimenez family are recognized as masters of creating alebrijes, carefully carved and vividly painted creatures, both from the animal kingdom and based in fantasy. No matter what he carves, Jimenez treats it with a shock of painstakingly applied, you-won’t-see-that-in-nature colors: an armadillo, for instance, might have a virtual rainbow of hues across his back, while a rearing bull is imagined with bright orange hooves, a turquoise snout, and a cerulean body.
Alebrijes have their origins in Mexico City in the 1930s, when they were literally dreamed up by artisan Pedro Lenares, but they were so popular that now artisans make them in all parts of the country. Today, Jimenez runs a workshop of around 200 artisans, split equally between male and female workers. Unlike other carvers, the Jimenez family uses tropical cedar wood for their sculpture. After it is cut to manageable, smaller pieces using machetes and knives, individual artisans determine what the sculpture will ultimately become. The carving process comes next, followed by a thorough sanding. Painting is a labor-intensive, highly creative practice, in which the personality of each individual artisan comes through in the style and technique of their imagination.