Make a Traditional Mexican Alebrije Activity

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Updated on May 8, 2014

For decades, artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico have carved and painted bright, fanciful animal creatures known as alebrijes. These creations stand out for their detailed paint finishes; these are accomplished by repeating dots, lines, and geometric motifs with small implements.

Your little one can ignite her creativity by designing her own version of an alebrije, making it slightly easier to work with by substituting sculpted clay for carved wood. Constructing a three-dimensional fantasy creature will give your child a chance to unleash her imagination as she develops important fine motor skills.

What You Need:

  • Bake-able polymer clays in various colors
  • Paper clips
  • Old baking sheet
  • Tempera or acrylic paint
  • Toothpicks
  • Paintbrushes
  • Cotton swabs

What You Do:

  1. If you have a book or website available with images of alebrijes, inspire your child with the pictures. Explain that alebrijes are creatures that may share characteristics of common animals, but usually have fantastical elements.
  2. Have your children sculpt a base for the alebrije using Sculpey, Fimo or another type of polymer clay. Your child can roll balls, logs, and coils in alternating colors to create the body of an alien, spider, or snake.
  3. Determine where to add antennae or legs. For these segments, children can unbend small paper clips and insert them into the clay base.
  4. Bake the polymer clay according to the manufacturer's instructions. Allow ample time for the clay and paper clip inserts to cool.
  5. Have your child paint the alebrije creatures. She can begin with large stripes and dots, applied with the tips of cotton swabs. Once those dots dry, invite her to create smaller inner dots and stripes with toothpicks or the point end of paintbrushes.

This art project illuminates a craft tradition popular in Oaxaca, where entire villages now devote themselves to creating alebrijes. Consider extending this activity by having your child write a story or poem about her new fantasy creature, giving it a name, background, and even special powers.

Serena Makofsky has a multiple subjects teaching credential with an emphasis in cross-cultural instruction. She taught in inner city classrooms for many years. She also writes curriculum for English language learners.

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