Eleazar Morales is a well-known
Oaxacan woodcarving artist. His work has been exhibited and collected around the
world, and his special skill in sculpture-making began at an early age. He
is considered a master wood carver from the state of Oaxaca, In this village,
where artisans abound, Eleazar stands out because of his exquisite attention to
detail and his fine carving and painting.
Eleazar Morales is a recognized
artist because of his fanciful Oaxacan woodcarving sculptures. He has
established himself as one of the better artisans in this field through his
innate ability to carve realistic animals (you can almost SEE the muscles under
the skin of his carvings) and his meticulous and innovative use of painting
techniques as well as his attraction to “bringing back to life” many extinct
forms of life.
He constantly researches beasts from
long ago to present ages that have gone extinct. Examples are Eleazar’s
Saber-toothed Cats, Tasmanian Wolves, and endangered wildlife. Eleazar
also creates painting patterns on his animals that are amazing to bear witness
to - his gorillas are vibrant shades of purples and blues; his leopards come to
life with witty spots and bright colors, and his feathers float off into flight.
Eleazar Morales has also created larger sculptures of people and places - from
Benito Juarez to Aztec warriors with the Virgin Mary on their clothing.
Tasmanian wolf or tiger- an extinct
(?) Marsupial carnivore called a Thylacine from Australia, Tasmania
& Papua New Guinea - note the organic, fluid and realistic lines to
the animal's form.
Eleazar is a political witness
and a believer in philanthropy - he observes social changes, political strife,
and religious anxieties then converts these observations into artistic
manifestations. His analytical historical woodcarvings (full of juxtaposed
ideals and references) have garnered him much acclaim and awards which have led
to features in many publications. You can often times recognize Eleazar’s
artworks because of the subject matter he uses as well as the painting patterns
he produces (gorgeous base colors with spotting and ringlets of accenting
colors); but there is one more characteristic his artwork holds... look at the
EYES of the artworks. Eleazar is the only artisan that produces an incredible
expressiveness within the eyes of his creations, whether it be beast or human.
nautilus carved by Eleazar
a colorful stingray
The eyes are excited and full of
emotion - if you look carefully you will see the sparkle of light that reflects
from their depth. Another characteristic you can look for in Eleazar
Morales’ work is that of “inlaid” skeleton patterns. He is very fascinated by
the skeletal systems of animals, and has been known to incorporate the bone
structure pattern into some of his pieces.
A true artisan, he feels that art is
definitely a necessity and a joy to have upon earth.
Eleazar Morales was born in the town of Arrazola, Oaxaca, on the 20th of
February, 1976. He completed public education up through high school, and
throughout his childhood he desired to be a painter and artist. He began carving
at the age of 17. He has a brother, Susano Morales whom is also a
woodcarving artist. Eleazar married his sweetheart Dora, and together have been
raising their children Obed, Amdey, and Jazmin. They have a beautiful
home, overlooking the rugged hills surrounding their village.
Eleazar has constructed a traditional adobe workshop in the courtyard of his
home, where he stores and dries his copal wood and does much of the carving and
painting of his pieces.
Eleazar's main carving area in his adobe workshop
A workspace where Eleazar does his
carving in his adobe
the view from Eleazar and Dora's home
His town had many woodcarving
artisans, but no formal education for becoming a woodcarver. The people who did
practice the craft kept it secret, afraid other townspeople would steal their
designs and livelihood, and sharing of secrets of woodworking was non-existent.
At about the age of 11 he began to act as a tour guide in his town, and
therefore was able to get an inside glimpse into artist’s homes and wood-working
“When I paint my pieces I
feel realized, complete. I imagine myself as a great painter in some 19th
century European country, hanging my work for the public in great salons...”
Little by little he practiced the craft, and by the age of 14 he began to work
in earnest to support himself as an artist. He enhanced his skill by going
through the leftover woodcarving trash of his town neighbor, Manuel Jiménez, who
was one of the most famous founding fathers of Oaxacan woodcarving. Eleazar
would take the bits of unfinished works and scraps that Don Manuel Jiménez would
throw away and study them to see how to better carve his own creations.
“I am very proud of having
learned this fine craft by myself with no formal study or training. I applied
myself, and feel that the results have been excellent!”
His first intent at creating a woodcarving came in the form of a hog - a
complete and utter disaster!
“The piece was horrible and completely unbalanced - I had to use nails to hold
in place the poor animal’s appendages!”
Now, Eleazar Morales’ artworks are splendid beasts - magical and fantastical. He
has a very positive outlook on life, and he tries to be as positive as possible
when dealing with life. His wife, Dora, says,
“Eli hates to be mad, angry, or
frustrated. He is happy and satisfied, and treats his family and friends with
great respect and joy. He loves life, and he loves being an artist.”
Eleazar spends most of his day working on his pieces, ready to sell them
directly to customers from his house or to the many upscale shop owners from the
nearby town of Oaxaca or from the United States, Europe and even Japan!
Eleazar travels to create new
interest in his works and to promote his craft and has a visa to legally travel
to The United States as a working artist. He has visited many locations in his
quest, from Mexico to The United States, and he has visited Nuevo Laredo,
Acapulco, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. At least once a year,
Eleazar visits Zanzibar Trading Company and often has a show of his work and
carving demonstrations. The Owners of Zanzibar, Scott and Josh, also make
regular buying trips to Oaxaca and visit Eleazar and commission works of art
Eleazar has been recognized in many artisan publications on Oaxacan woodcarving,
and he is considered to be one of the best and most disciplined creator of
whimsical beasts and figurative sculptures in the state.
Life for Eleazar Morales and his
family begins very early. At the crack of dawn, the Copal vendors usually
arrive to the Oaxacan Valley towns; they come with heavily burdened burros
carrying loads of Copal wood. They do not cut down copal trees, rather
they simply trim off the limbs of the trees, which re-grow. Eleazar also
participates in a program that replants copal trees in areas where they have
been over harvested for fire wood, copal resin and building materials.
Eleazar prizes this particular type
of wood for its pliability and gnarled form that produces movement within the
sculptural forms he produces. One of the better qualities that Copal wood has is
that it sands down to a smooth, porcelain finish.
There are several species of copal trees native to the Oaxacan area.
Many carvers mistakenly claim that two of the species are actually
"male" and "female" trees of the same species, however they are in
actuality simply different species, albeit closely related.
For centuries, natives to
this area used the copal tree for building, carving of day to day
items and also for its sap - fragrant copal resin.
Today there is a major
restoration and replanting program that our carvers participate in.
Copal branches can be very
fragrant depending on the time of year they are pruned and fresh pieces have an
aromatic smell that pleasantly fill the woodcarver’s home. When dried, Copal
wood becomes light and flexibly strong. Characterized as a soft wood, Copal
thrives in higher elevations and is an aggressive grower. Eleazar embraces the
use of this tree because it is sustainable and minimally impacts the
environment, a concern he has in a society where resources are hard to come by.
Cut copal branches in Eleazar's workshop
Cut copal showing inner bark and resin
copal resin seeping from a cut in this copal branch
Before Oaxacan woodcarving became
popular, copal tree resin was primarily used to make incense and its berries
were a common cure for acne! The incense was regarded as a favorable god-given
gift by the Mayans and used as a form of protection against sorcery, illness,
and misfortune. The incense still burns in many Mexican churches today for the
purpose of making the body, and the religious space, ritually clean. The dried
resin, when burned, projects an odor similar to frankincense but with a lighter
The qualities and themes inherent in copal resin transmit to the carvings
themselves. Monstrous figurines like “alebrijes” (a brightly colored Mexican
folk art sculpture of fantastical animal-like creatures) or “nahuals” (night
spirits and magical/whimsical animals) are used to scare off evil spirits or
stifle the effects of sorcery. “Animalitos” (small animals) such as frogs, dogs,
and owls are seen as good luck companions. They artfully personify the natural
twists and curves of the branches themselves.
Originally, Oaxacan wood-carvings were very big and bulky but the work rapidly
evolved into streamlined dynamic forms that master sculptors, such as Eleazar
Morales, can now sculpt an entire creature from one piece of wood.
Different parts of the branches make for different animals. A fat knob may be
used to make a turtle while a wispy branch may be transformed into a lizard. The
endless tangled maze of branches are a constant inspiration and invention for
Eleazar, and nothing is ever wasted. Small pieces are transformed into ears,
tails, and sometimes teeth for his artistic wonders!
Eleazar spends a great deal of his
time chiseling with a machete the desired form from the Copal wood while it is
still wet and soft. He keeps unused pieces of Copal wood wrapped in wet
newspaper and he places them in cold refrigerators in order to help the wood
keep its humid consistency.
Eleazar Morales works with axes, machetes, and even small kitchen knives to
sculpt his artistic vision as he methodically coaxes the delicate shapes from
the wood. Equally important is the sanding; it is here that Eleazar, the master
artisan, can bring out the personality and the character of his creations.
As the wood continues to dry, small cracks are
sanded out and re-sealed. If more than a single piece of Copal wood is used,
Eleazar will carefully glue arms, tails and other appendages on the animals and
figures. Single piece carvings are usually smaller and more "organic" in
appearance, while larger pieces are typically created from an assortment of
smaller wood carvings. Some of the choicest master wood works actually fit in
the palm of your hand and are carved from a single piece of wood, while others
can very well hold their own presence on a large table or display cabinet.
SOME QUESTIONS ASKED OF ELEAZAR:
What are your favorite tools
for making your artworks?
“My favorite tool is an old kitchen
knife I use to carve my figures. I sharpen it myself, and I really enjoy the way
it fits into my hand. I also love the machete to start the carving process and
to form the sculpture early in the process. I also make extensive use of files
and sandpaper to smooth out the pieces. For painting, I prefer Acrylic paints
and to apply this I use regular paint brushes, toothbrushes, and a syringe for
creating really tiny detailed marks.”
How do you begin an artwork?
“First, I settle myself down
and concentrate until I can imagine the artwork and see it clearly in my mind. I
imagine the living environment of the animal- what it’s living conditions are,
and how those affect the way it looks and behaves... I dream that they are happy
beasts, in joyous and fantastical worlds... even ferocious, snarling mouths and
teeth look content to me... I see the details of the fur and feathers, the mouth
and its teeth, the sparkle in the eyes.
By imaging all this I set my mind on
the mood of creating the animal. I don’t use sketches or drawings, I just begin
by carving a large chunk of Copal wood to form the base for the sculpture- I use
my trusty machete."
What is your favorite
material to use when creating your wooden carvings?
“I prefer to use Copal wood
for various reasons. It is a very “clean” wood- it rarely has any types of holes
or knots. It also is very humid which allows for easier carving and forming
(other types of wood also dry quickly, often times bending and disfiguring the
sculpture). I keep the Copal wood humid by wrapping the wood in a plastic bag
and storing it in a refrigerator. I obtain it from a cooperative that works with
a green organization to grow and sell the wood in a sustainable manner.
The Copal trees are planted in
cycles to grow in 15 years, and thus harvested in an efficient, and
controllable, manner. Each artist in the village is able to purchase a certain
set allowance of wood, and i am very satisfied with this type of system. If need
be, I also use other types of wood on occasion, including cedar and red wood.”
What is your favorite part of
the art-making process?
“I get the most joy from
painting in the details once the pieces have been carved out. I love creating
the intricate details that my artworks portray including the mottled patterns on
the bodies, the expressiveness of the eyes, and the whimsical colors I choose. I
have a very steady hand in creating the details that include various types of
lines, dots, circles, and spots that help to create an illusion of fur,
feathers, or skin.”
“I especially love the feeling of satisfaction and pride I feel when completing
special custom-made pieces, those are usually the hardest to make because the
client has a very specific artwork in mind, and I use my skill to transform that
dream into a reality.”
When do you know an artwork
“I feel that the work is complete when my eyes tell me so- when the painting is
all done and the detail creates a life within the piece. I really enjoy seeing
the detail that I make wether it’s tufts of fur, scales on a reptile, or
feathers on an eagle. I love those tiny little details in creating texture for
the bodies of my beasts.”
Do you take into account
environmental issues when creating artwork?
“I am very conscientious of
nature and it’s sustainability to my art. I am part of an association in my town
that supplies copal wood to artisans through use of sustainable,
environmentally-safe sources and farm land that are carefully farmed and
reseeded to continue the Copal tree growth. Each section of the farmland run by
this organization is harvested and reseeded every 15 years; therefore the wood
harvests are being sustained and not damaging the environment.”
What do you do differently
that sets you apart from other Oaxacan woodcarvers?
“I believe that my work is
some of the most detailed available. I try to create a realism in the texture of
the painting I do on the figures, from the repeating patterns of feathers and
scales to the sparkling eyes that look back into your own eyes. Also, I try to
think about nature by creating artworks based on animals that are extinct or
rare, and by doing so I feel that i bring their existence into our own time and
A painting of the Virgin de Guadalupe with an
ocelot at her feet, painted by Eleazar Morales
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OF WORKS OF ART BY ELEAZAR