The three great wood carving villages are San Martin Tilcajete, Arrazola and La Union. I’ve written about finding La Union in another post. And, of course, you can find wonderful alebrijes in excellent galleries along Alcala, such as La Mano Magica, or tucked around the corner and across the street from Santo Domingo, at Tally (5 de Mayo 409). There is no limit to what you can find at every price range, from $8-10 USD up to thousands of dollars. Some people like shopping on the street at the Tlacalula or Ocotlan market. It’s important to note that the vendors here are usually not the artists. They may be from a village; they may be a relative representing the craftsman and earning a commission. Their offerings are usually smaller, more primitive and are not finely finished or painted. But, these fancifuls can be a bargain and great sources for gifts.
For collectors, the most accessible sources and the best range of choice could be found in the finest Oaxaca shops or in the Jacobo Angeles gallery “La Azucena,” on the highway at the crossroads to San Martin, where excellent examples from throughout the region are displayed. But the highlight and most fun for any thrill of the hunt is going out to the villages in search of the masters.
For me, the search for a master does not necessarily mean finding the most famous (or most expensive) carver. My process is to go to a village with a short list of carvers whose work I really like and stay open to discovering others. I gauge the quality of their work by size, difficulty of carving execution, finish work (how well is it sanded and are there rough spots), painting detail, use of and variety of color, general artistry and movement, and use of natural pigments. Do the pieces have many removeable parts or are there discernable glued joints? Carvings from one piece of copal is more highly valued, for example.
Here are a few of my favorite carvers. but, understand that you can arrive at their home studio/workshop and there will not be much there that is for sale at the moment. It varies. The best carvers are constantly producing their work and shipping immediately upon completion to galleries in Oaxaca or the U.S. Sometimes I have gone to find the person is not there. If you can get a phone number and make an appointment in advance, that is preferable. Now, I have a list of many carvers and am able to do this to ensure a connection.
A few of my favorite San Martin Tilcajete carvers: Jacobo Angeles, Justo Xuana, Maria Jimenez Ojeda, Pablo Mendez Sosa
A few of my favorite Arrazola carvers: Hector Martinez, Bertha Cruz
A few of my favorite La Union carvers: Gabino Reyes, Sergio Santos, Calixto Santiago
Arrazola has a central artisans market that is quite good. We always make a stop there to see the work. On the last visit there was a great big Skeleton Couple, he bedecked in top hat, she outfitted in a dazzling dancing dress. Ask around town, go in and out of workshops and you will likely find something wonderful to take home. (See my post “Packing Tips” for how to get these home without paying an arm and a leg for shipping.)
I also have a few fine pieces from my collection for sale in my Gallery Shop: www.oaxacaculture.com