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David Linares, The Next Maestro, En Calavera
January 15, 2003

One night in 1950, Papa Pedro, grandfather of David Linares, was sick with fever and dreamed of a fantastic creature…part dragon, part bird, part iguana…and he named his vision "el alebrije". He loved to tell me this story on every visit to his studio and home before his death in 1992. From that night forward, the already famous Linares family's destiny and place of honor in Mexican folk art was forever sealed.

The Linares family history, the significance of the skeleton, and the family's evolution from piñata makers to maestros of paper mache arts is far too complex to attempt in this format. Any person who own a piece of Linares sculpture must own the book, En Calavera, The Papier-Mâché Art of the Linares Family, by Susan N. Masuoka, published by the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1994 (available on

Raised amidst the molds, scraps of paper and pots of glue, David, the middle son of Felipe and Lola, absorbed the family's artistic craft at an early age. Upon entering his first concurso (juried show), he won first place at the age of 12.

David Linares with a famed Alebrije to the left.

David was recently fascinated to see one of his sculptures pictured in a home in the just published book, Traditional Mexican Style Interiors by Donna McMenamin. David easily identified his own skeleton woman, intricately dressed with detailed folds in her paper mache garments. We were astounded when David recalled making this piece when he was 13 years old.

Now in his thirties, this life-long resident of Mexico City is clearly the emerging maestro of the family, after his own father, Felipe. David's creativity, attention to detail, and painting style are simply the best.

Left: David with completed Revolutionaries en Calvera, & a rendering of the Virgin en Calavera.
Right: The finished depiction of the miracle of Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe which
appeared on the front page of Atencíon San Miguel, the local English language paper,
in honor of the Pope's canonization of Juan Diego.

With his own family of four, the work is slow, tedious and must be fit around the tasks of daily life and weather conditions. Each figure is built, layer by paper layer, with wire, sewing with string, and wood to ensure the sturdiness of the anatomical base. Then the dressing, decoration, and painting must begin because you will never see a David Linares garment coated in glitter or actually made of fabric and lace, devises now used to lessen painting time or to obscure an unpainted body beneath. The contrasts of tradition and innovation define David Linares as an artist, and he dismisses these techniques as cheap short cuts.

Left: Walking the Dog, David Linares-style.
Right: A detail of the face of the boat captain and his pole, in Xochimilco Park.

While not as recognized as his father, Felipe, and not as outgoing as brother Leonardo, David is destined to emerge as the most-collectable of the large, extended, Linares family working in paper mache today. Although usually not credited, his work appears in the Mexican Pavilion at Disney's Epcot Center, he personally traveled to Paris to exhibit at the Pompidou Center in the show, Magiciens de la Terre (1989), and his work is pictured but not credited in the volume, Great Masters of Mexico Folk Art (October 2001).

Clearly in our eyes, David Linares will be the keeper of the tradition, and we look forward to observing the most productive years of his artistic life.

Deb Hall