Meet the Artists
Six master artists from Mexico City are visiting DuPage County this summer, showcasing 48 alebrije sculptures at Cantigny Park.
Perla Miriam Salgado Zamorano
- Reason for becoming an alebrijera: She believes this is what she was born to do.
- Favorite or most challenging piece: Firulais is probably her favorite because, he was the first piece that Fernando (MCC) saw and fell in love with during his first visit to Miriam & Alejandro’s shop. They believe Firulais is the one that “lock the project”
- Total alebrijes made in life: Around fifty alebrijes monumentales.
- Message for the audience: Miriam always talks to the pieces as she is creating/painting them. “You are going to look beautiful”. She is quite strict in quality control and always checks each and every piece before delivering it or sending it to the shop. She sorts of gets a bit sad when a piece is finished, and it is time to send off. She tells her pieces “you are going to a beautiful place, I know a nice household will purchase you and will treat you like royalty”. And even jokes with her pieces, “When prospect clients pass by, wink at them, so they will purchase [from] you!”. Miriam and Alejandro own their own shop/gallery where they sell traditional Mexican toys and alebrijes. They also create alebrijes for museum’s shops like the Popular Art Museum and Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City, FONARTE (National Fund for the Promotion of Crafts) in Mexico City, Artes de Mexico Magazine, and Popular Art Museum in Morelos, Mexico. Miriam wants everyone to know that “Alebrijes are a gift from Mexico to the world”.
Miriam’s favorite pattern (she calls it “abanico”) is painted on all her pieces. This pattern is her way to depict the ripples formed when she throws a stone at the lake where she lives (Xochimilco). If she could be an alebrije, she would be a winged dolphin + jaguar with superpowers!
Sometime in the past she came up with the “aquabrijes” concept – a category of alebrijes that focuses on water animals.
All of Miriam’s pieces have “Viva Mexico” written on them along with a Mexican flag.
Perla Miriam’s Alebrijes
Alejandro Camacho Barrera
- Reason for becoming an alebrijero: His college education allowed him to discover that there are more important things to pay attention to. Hence, education through popular art as an identity mechanism in his country. After the big earthquake in Mexico City, he left public service (government) in 1985 to start working with art, education, and kids.
“After losing so many things in that earthquake, we needed to strengthen the things we had left with, like culture.” Alejandro decides to open an art workshop to make toys because kids’ entrance to the culture begins when they are little. Their first contact with art is through a toy. This is why he became a toymaker and eventually took on the art of alebrijes.
- Favorite or most challenging piece: Patapez is probably the one piece that “attracted good luck” and gave them several opportunities for international projects, starting with his beginnings in Colombia.
- Total alebrijes made in life: His workshop has produced about 55,000 pieces between Alejandro and Miriam.
- Message to the audience: Alejandro strives to depict and represent endangered species within his alebrijes design. He believes that we should pay attention to the symbiosis these species effect when going extinct. His idea when creating objects like alebrijes, is for them to start a dialogue with people. Each piece has a message for the audience. Those ready to start this dialogue will find the message these pieces are ready to share.
Alejandro’s style is fantastic realism. He combines the natural world with the human-made world. He also believes that science connects both art and nature. His task is to connect the natural design found around us (plants, textures, animal skin) with the one created by humans (graphs, lines, geometry).
His process start with an idea, follows with a sketch, and continues with a maquette. The maquette allows them to resolve any technical issues they might encounter when putting together a monumental alebrije.
If Alejandro were an alebrije, he would be a hummingbird because regardless of its size, he has a significant purpose. In the Mexican culture, the hummingbird is an important symbol as the Aztec myth tells us he has messages from our dead loved ones to us. A hummingbird then is a messenger.
Alejandro’s dream was solely to bring and share his work with Cantigny Park. Upon his arrival, he discovered that many people shared his artistic vision. He realized that the American culture depicted back in Mexico was different from what he had come to learn and appreciate in a few weeks.
Alberto Moreno Fernandez
- Reason for becoming an alebrijero: Alberto became a cartonero while going through a personal search when he was 21 years old.
- Favorite or most challenging piece: Bicefalo entre el Bien y el Mal is Alberto’s favorite in this series. Not only was it challenging as a structure but as a theme. Bicefalo is a very personal piece where he worked out the internal fight between right and wrong.
- Total alebrijes made in life: He’s lost, count! The first year in cartoneria classes, his instructor asked him to create one small alebrije per day (he only completed 350) while working on alebrije monumentales. He sold all but one piece of those first 350. He has created alebrijes for seventeen years.
- Message to the audience: Alberto believes that we do not live out of the art; instead, we should live for the art. Alebrijes (art in general) have saved him; they have provided him with a creative and emotional outlet. Your hard work and creativity are the source of happiness. Alberto wants everyone to know that Mexicans are hard-working people. Dream creators. “We put our hearts on everything we do or make. Your mind thinks about something, then goes to your heart, then your hands take over and create something”.
Alberto always liked the plastic arts and crafts. The first art piece he remembers creating was when he has in kindergarten, where he got to be the Bad Wolf in a puppet play. While in grade school, Alberto remembers making clay models for his classes and adding different colors and features to objects like trees. His models were not like the other kids. He joined Plastic Arts classes in middle school, but because of family finances, he had to quit and start working. When he was 21 years old and with a steady income, he started classes in “El Faro de Oriente”- a government cultural space promoting creativity and the social fabric’s reconstitution. Here, he starts screen printing classes, stage performance workshops (juggling, stilts), and cartoneria.
He has created alebrijes for seventeen years. (He was introduced to alebrijes through his brother’s textbook, where he saw an image of an alebrije). Alberto also refers to his mother as the most significant influence on his creativity. Alberto’s mother is originally from Puebla, a state in Mexico rich in arts, crafts, culture, and traditions. She passed her deep appreciation for nature and the animals around him.
One of the techniques used in cartoneria is the use of animal bones to make molds. Alberto uses this traditional technique as much as possible when making his pieces.
Alberto wants us to know that producing alebrijes (and the overall cartoneria trade) is a tough job. When working on a major production, he usually works 16-17 hours in the workshop and perhaps eight hours at home. There is no rest.
Alberto has made pieces for the Museo de Arte Popular (he currently has a piece on display there), he works with Producciones Garra, an event and theater production company. If Alberto was an alebrije, he would be a mole, an eagle, and a deep-sea fish.
Roberto Carlos Martinez Tecillo
- Reason for becoming an alebrijero: Roberto met Maestro Alejandro Camacho through a teaching class at “El FARO” a cultural house for the arts and crafts. Alejandro recognized Roberto’s talent and commitment to the trade, so Alejandro became Roberto’s mentor. Soon, Alejandro would have Roberto join him in big projects or even refer him to them. Roberto has thirteen years in the art of cartoneria.
- Favorite or most challenging piece: All
- Total alebrijes made in life: Around 100 pieces
- Message to the audience: Roberto uses vivid, bright, and vibrant colors on his pieces because he wants people to leave happy after looking at them.
Roberto defines his style as colorful with lots of fantasy. He doesn’t follow a definite pattern or line form. For Roberto, the piece itself talks to him and directs him. It tells him what colors, shapes, and patterns to use. “It is a connection you create with your pieces, and I try to leave that connection with them. Imagine working on them for months. You start to talk to them and treat them as other members of your family. I talk to them every time I walk by them in the park. I know I will miss them, but I also know I am leaving a bit of me behind with them.”
Roberto’s creative process varies. Sometimes he starts by sketching; sometimes, he dreams of designs for his pieces. There are a couple of hidden phrases in two of Roberto’s pieces: Two-headed dog & Nochipa. He hides messages in all the pieces he creates.
Roberto has come to value the place and people back home even more since he got in the US. Most importantly, he has come to appreciate the people here, especially those from Mexico, who smile and brighten up their faces when Roberto shares that he is from Mexico.
Roberto hopes that after this exhibit, the art in Tlahuac (the place where he is from) will get recognized internationally. He hopes more places like Cantigny will open their doors for him to express his art and share his culture.
Roberto’s next big project is a Community Ofrenda in Tlahuac, a yearly project he started seven years ago.
Roberto speaks Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec civilization spoken by 1.5 million people in Mexico nowadays. Roberto is part of a Calculli (a prehispanic dance group), where he performs traditional dances, which he loves.
It is important for Roberto that people in the USA know Mexico has a lot of culture, some of which is taken for granted. He is interested in promoting (preserving) his culture through his art, traditions, and dance.
Edgar Israel Camargo Reyes
- Reason for becoming an alebrijero: His interest in cartoneria came back when he enrolled his daughter in a pottery class.
- Total alebrijes made in life: Hundreds of small pieces. Around 100 alebrijes monumentales.
- Message to the audience: Edgar wants everyone to know how proud he is of being an Artisan. While in college, professors would question his school place, and he always chose to call himself “artesano” (artisan). He often “joked” with professors stating that while other students were leaving with titles like “Visual Artist”, he was leaving with a “Visual Artisan” degree. It is important for him that people recognize artisans and artists at the same level. He also wants us all to know that he doesn’t work alone; his wife is like his left hand. (She is left-handed).
Edgar’s creative process has changed over time. Before college, Edgar started working on his pieces without sketching, mainly because most of the designs Edgar comes up with appear to him in dreams or come from movies he watches. Once he started his college education, he developed the habit of sketching and making maquettes before the actual piece.
Edgar became interested in the art of cartoneria at a very early age. His parents would take him to “Mercado Sonora”, a market in Mexico City established in 1957. Edgar’s dad would buy him Roman helmets or “charrito” hats made out of paper mache.
Edgar’s interest would fade away until he married and had kids. He attended workshops and classes on alebrije making until an opportunity to share his knowledge and experience came up. At a Cultural Center, he started teaching art classes to kids with down syndrome. While doing so, he felt like he needed to prepare more, so he started attending the School of Arts and Crafts (INBA), where he completed a degree in sculpture. But he still felt he needed to prepare more, so he completed a second degree in ceramics.
Edgar defines his style as organic and natural. He believes that geometric shapes are too rigid. On the contrary, when you work with a more organic design, it is as if your hand flows with the paint.
“You start developing your techniques as you learn.” While in school, Edgar didn’t feel like professors were giving him the freedom to create what he wanted. Once he became an art teacher, he wanted to change that and let his students go with whatever their imagination had. In the process, he was learning, along with his students, together, how to make new or different pieces.
If Edgar were an alebrije, he would be a snail, gorilla, and eagle.
Most of Edgar’s pieces are named after family members.
Emanuel Arturo Zárate Ortíz
- Favorite or most challenging piece: Malucan is the biggest sculpture he has built so far and the most challenging – the curved forms in this type of sculpture are not easy to achieve. It is a challenge to balance the entire weight and make sure to proportionate it, so all meets in the center of the piece, so it can stand.
- Total alebrijes made in life: Ten monumentales (one of them is in France). Hundreds of little ones.
- Message to the audience: Art will change the world.
Arturo defines his style as realistic. He likes to define the attributes of his pieces, ex. if he is working on a whale, it will look like a whale. He enjoys geometric patterns because it is what we see everywhere around us – floors, walls, streets, architecture.
His process follows most artists’ process – sketches, maquette, and monumental. In the middle of the process however, he re-evaluates the material he plans to use, so he can ask friends and family to donate recyclable items.
Arturo got into using recycled materials right after he finished his first degree, when the need to create continued, but he lacked the financial resources. He realized there was so much waste around that he could use to deliver a message about our consumption habits. He adopted this concept since then, because for him, it doesn’t make sense to create something that will end up as a waste.
Arturo participates in sculpture contests to support his own studio. He teaches classes about sculpture with recycled materials and alebrijes to all ages. The thing he really loves about teaching is that, he is the one learning and nourishing from his student’s knowledge and experience. The biggest lesson he has learnt from his students is that there are no ages or limitations when it comes to creativity. It is very easy to give-up, especially in the art world, where you think you are always competing and not everybody trust you, but his students have shown him that they trust him, so he continues to believe in himself.
If Arturo was an alebrije, he would be a bull, a jaguar, and an eagle.
Arturo loves insects because they are tiny and beautiful if you pay close attention to their anatomy. They remind him of how small we, humans are. His favorite insects are probably the moth and the dragonfly.