The history of the Alebrije is a story of creation: Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical (fantasy/mythical) creatures. The first alebrijes, along with invention of the term, originated with Mexico City cartonero Pedro Linares. Linares often told that in the 1930s, he fell very ill, and while he was in bed, unconscious, he dreamt of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that suddenly turned into something strange, some kind of animals, but, unknown animals. He saw a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with an eagle head, and all of them were shouting one word, "¡Alebrijes!, ¡Alebrijes!". Upon recovery, he began recreating the creatures he saw in cartonería, a papercraft consisting of strips of paper and glue on an armature.
These paper mache creations caught the attention of other artists and were exhibited around the country. In Oaxaca, artisans took these creations in a new direction.
Oaxaca has had a long tradition of the carving of animals from a readily available local wood, Copal. Oaxacan artisans took the idea of these fantastical creatures and began carving them in wood, decorated with bright colors and dazzling patterns. This carved wood version of this craft has since spread to a number of towns, most notably San Martín Tilcajete and La Unión Tejalapan, and has become a major source of income for the area. The success of the craft, however, has led to the depletion of the native copal trees. Attempts to remedy this with reforestation efforts and management of wild copal trees has had limited success. The towns associated with alebrije production in Oaxaca have produced a number of notable artisans such as Manuel Jiménez, Jacobo Angeles, Martin Sandiego, Julia Fuentes and Miguel Sandiego.
Jacobo & Maria Angeles have become major figures in the Oaxaca handcraft scene, traveling extensively to promote alebrijes and Zapotec heritage. Their work has been exhibited in major national and international exhibitions. Their work is regularly in the United States, especially in the summer, and his alebrijes have been exhibited in this country in venues such as the Smithsonian Native American Museum and the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Jacobo is listed as a grand master by the Fomento Cultural Banamex and his work has been featured in two books Alebrijes. Masterpieces by Jacobo and María Ángeles (2012) and Cuatro manos, dos oficios. Una iconografía (2014), along with fellow Oaxacan artisan Carlomagno Pedro Martínez. In 2014, Angeles, along with other artisans from Oaxaca, was invited to the Vatican to meet the pope and to place 1,200 nativity scene figures and Christmas tree ornaments, which were exhibited at the Vatican Museum.
His works can be found in collections in many parts of the world, including those in the United States, India and Japan. His pieces sell for between $100 and $20,000 each.
Manuel Cruz Prudencio lives in the municipality of San Agustin de las Juntas and has been immersed in the creation of Alebrijes since he was 5 years old in his father's workshop. He has been awarded with several prizes and acknowledgments of his artisan career, he was awarded 3rd place in the State Award Benito Juarez and an Award of the Concurso de la Juventud that is organized by MEAPO in Oaxaca, and also he won awards during his participation in the Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.