Oaxacan Wood Carvings

Peyote People

TONAS & NAHUALES

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Just as the Wixarika culture has its different customs, traditions, and deities, so too does the Zapotec culture, from the state of Oaxaca. They tell us about their culture through their wood carvings of animal totems and the symbols that are painted onto them. These carvings are also referred to as Tonas and Nahuales. Tonas are animals that represent a person’s personality, it is the animal that will accompany said person throughout their life. The Nahuales, known in the Zapotec culture as the shapeshifters, are the ones that guide the person into the afterlife.   

The Wood Carvings are also known as Alebrijes. Although the name is not correct, alebrijes stem from the paper mache figures created first by Pedro Linares from Mexico City. Linares had a high fever and began to hallucinate. When he recovered from his fever he went about to recreate what he had seen in his visions and this is how the alebrije monster was first created. From this Alebrije monster the woodcarvers in Oaxaca started to create their own monsters that commonly became known as Martians. Later after looking back to what their Zapotec ancestors did the Oaxacan wood carvers began creating animals that belonged to their own Zapotec calendars and the tonas and nahuales were born.

Each Oaxacan artist in our collection has their own unique style. Artists like Luis Sosa are easily recognized for their floral patterns. Julia Fuentes is known for her contrasting highly detailed symbols with more simple ones in order to balance out her artwork. Jacobo y Maria Angeles are well known for the highly intricate patterns, and their ever changing series of work is a continual example of Mexican artists that keep pushing the boundaries of their discipline.