Antiques Collectibles: Folk art that comes from the heart

This carving owned by George Hoeppner is an example of Mexican folk art from the Valley of Oaxaca.

Similar to American folk art, Mexican folk art is not the kind of art that is taught in school. It comes from within the artist. It is part of somebody. It is primitive, irregular and intimate.

It doesn’t matter how old the object is. It is the spirit of the piece that matters, something that possesses that elusive folk art spirit.

When creating folk art, the artist does not ask, "Will they like it?" or "Did I use the right tools to make it?" The artist just expresses himself or herself in a simple, uncalculated way.

Some examples of Mexican folk art are the Oaxacan or alebrijes woodcarvings found in brilliant colors created by artistic woodcarvers creating their works entirely by hand from copal wood found within the Valley of Oaxaca.

These folk art sculptures of imaginary creatures were created by Pedro Linares, originally from San Antonio Arrazola and Oaxaca, after dreaming them up while he was sick in the 1930s. He began to create what he saw in cardboard and papier-mache.


George Hoeppner of Rochester is an avid collector of these works of art.

"Thirty-five years ago my wife and I made a visit to Mexico City on our honeymoon. In early 2010, we decided to revisit Mexico City. One place that I wanted to revisit was Oaxaca. I had been there myself, many times," Hoeppner says. "I bought several books about Oaxaca. The book that inspired me was 'Mexican Folk Art from Oaxacan Artist Families,' especially the section on woodcarving."

Oaxacan woodcarvings have captivated collectors around the world, so most pieces are sold internationally in ethnic stores and upscale resorts, where pieces are more expensive. Within Mexico, these pieces often are sold in tourist locations.

Pieces generally range from $1 to $200, although some good-quality pieces can sell for more than $5,000, Hoeppner says.

The most commercialized Oaxaca figures are those of animals, armadillos, sharks and fish. The animals are often painted with bright colors and designs and carved with exaggerated features that take on little resemblance to what occurs in the natural world.

Oaxaca woodcarvings were all originally painted with aniline paints made with natural ingredients. Since 1985, most carvers have switched to acrylics, which resist fading and withstand repeated cleanings better. Both methods are generally done in two layers, with a solid undercoat and a multicolored designed overlay.

Some folk art objects are mass-produced, but originals are handmade by the artists themselves.

"There is that personal connection you get that makes collecting these items very special for me," Hoeppner says.

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