In Spring 2006, Dr. Kathleen Roe and a group of her students from the San Jose State University Health Sciences program were traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. In need of accommodations after a last minute schedule change, the group was introduced to several artisan families who agreed to house everyone for the night. It was an exchange that turned out to be the most fruitful of their trip.
So fruitful in fact, that Dr. Roe and students have been back to the same pueblo every year since, holding health education fairs, clinics, and taking part in a multitude of cultural exchanges.
Today I enjoyed a lecture by Dr. Roe, and afterwards met with two of the artists from Arrazola at Mezcal, a Oaxacan Restaurant in San Jose, California, where they shared their artworks with locals.
The artisans — from the small pueblo of Arrazola in Oaxaca, Mexico — are a collective of families who use their skills in woodcarving and intricate painting to produce beautiful, flowing pieces called “alebrijes”. These artworks are the main form of income for the pueblo and as such are often a family affair, involving the skills of a father, mother, and children to produce each unique and imaginative animal sculpture.
What really sets Arrazola apart from other artisan communities in the area, however, is the Ecoalebrije Artisan Association, a group of 18 artisan families who take their conservation and sustainability efforts very seriously.
Because native Copal trees are used as the source of wood for alebrije sculptures, the artisans are very active in maintaining a ‘sustainable’ forest. Families in the Ecoalebrije Artisan Association tend to small Copal trees at their homes throughout the year, eventually planting them in the nearby forest when they are old enough, ensuring a constant supply of locally sourced wood for the artisans.
Because these brightly-colored alebrijes carvings are created in such an eco-conscious manner, they’ve even been given a special name by the pueblo: EcoAlebrijes.
For More on the Artist and SJSU Project…
EcoAlebrije Artisan Association
San Jose State University / Arrazola, Oaxaca Intercambio
San Jose State University Department of Health Science
San Jose State University – Salzburg Program