The Linares Family, Wizards of Papier-Mâché

Felipe Linares papier-mache artist

Felipe Linares

Meet Felipe Linares, world-famous papier-mâché artist, son of Pedro Linares, and ex-officio head of the Linares Family of Mexico City whose artwork has been exhibited in the British Museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and Scotland’s Royal Museum of Modern Art. Felipe’s father Pedro is credited with creating Mexico’s fantastical alebrijes, an art form he imagined and named as a child in bed with a high fever. His alebrijes were favored by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and are exhibited in the Anahuacalli Museum, designed and created by Diego.

Alebrije

This alebrije is destined for the the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City

But this story is about more than alebrijes. It’s also about a famous Mexican tradition called La Quema de los Judas, the Burning of Judas Iscariot. While many Americans are familiar with the Mexican celebration in November known as the Day of the Dead, fewer are aware of the Burning of Judas on Easter weekend. It is thought that burning Judas was a medieval tradition brought to the New World to teach the indigenous people the biblical story. The first effigies of Judas were diabolical and were fashioned of rags and straw. They were burned because Judas represented evil. Today, the Judas effigies are made of papier-mâché, or cartoneria in Spanish, an art form associated with the Linares family since the 18th century.

Felipe Linares and Judas

Felipe Linares puts the finishing touches on a Judas effigy

Now meet Leonardo Linares, son of Felipe,  who is standing beside a papier-mâché Judas he created for the 2015 Quema de los Judas in the Merced Balbuena neighborhood of Mexico City. Several blocks of the street in front of the Linares home and studio are blocked and thousands gather for the annual burning. Though it is no longer a religious ceremony, the Quema de los Judas is a popular family event.

Leonardo Linares and a Judas

Leonardo Linares with a Judas on the rooftop of the Linares studio near the Sonora market

The Many Faces of Judas

These days the papier-mâché muñecas, or dolls, take many forms, including a lothario, a clown, politicians, television commentators, and Woody Woodpecker.

papier-mache clown

Woody Woodpecker

Dolls That Go Boom

There is one feature all of the Judas dolls have in common: they are packed with pyrotechnics, including concussion fireworks (think cherry bombs and M-80s) and tiny line rockets that make them spin erratically. The Burning of Judas is more like the blowing up of Judas.

Lucha libre papier-mache Judas

Lucha libre Judas wired with pyrotechnics

The Journey of Señor Buzzard

Let’s follow the fate of one Judas doll. We’ll call him Señor Buzzard. He begins his life on the rooftop of the Linares studio and is then expertly lowered to the street by a make-shift cable system. Then he is carried to a plaza where he performs on stage for the first and only time before being blown to smithereens.

Papier-mache buzzard

Señor Buzzard is wired with line rockets and concussion fireworks

 

Señor Buzzard

Señor Buzzard is lowered to the street from the roof of the Linares studio

Señor Buzzard

The ladder-like apparatus contains a chain of line rockets that will propel Señor Buzzard into a tail-spin

papier-mache buzzard

Señor Buzzard is raised above the crowd under Leonardo Linares’ direction

Whirling dervish

Rockets propel Señor Buzzard into a whirling dervish above the crowd

Fireworks exploding

In a final moment of splendor the concussion fireworks explode inside Señor Buzzard’s body

Street litter

All that remains of Señor Buzzard is street litter, and the Judas has been burned, or blown up

DEEPEST APPRECIATION. Without the assistance of Leonardo Linares, I would not have been able to bring you this story. When I phoned him to ask if I could come to the family studio he offered to meet me at the nearby subway station and guide me to the family home. He introduced me to his father, his mother, his brother, and his nephews. He gave me full access to the home and studio. Leonardo is carrying on a family tradition that reaches back several centuries. There are precious few men or women who can stake that claim. I am honored to have met him. Thank you, Leonardo, and La Familia Linares for your warm hospitality.

Leonardo Linares

Leonardo Linares

Linares Family

Linares Family

© 2015 Doug Hall

11 Responses to The Linares Family, Wizards of Papier-Mâché

  1. Marie Hooks April 30, 2015 at 8:18 am #

    The Linares family is proudly carrying on the artistry of creating gorgeous papier-mâché throughout their generations. The joy and pride they take in their creations is evident in each face pictured. Whether their works are permanent or temporary, the Linares are bringing beauty and joy into the lives of others. Great story!

  2. Celeste Bracewell April 30, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    As much as the beauty of the Linares papier-mâché enriches, your stories and photographs enlarge the reader…art. Beautiful photographs, no wasted words. As always, your keep your focus on the subject…a generous hallmark. Thank you.

    • Doug Hall April 30, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Thank you Celeste. Coming from someone as gifted with words and pixels as you, that’s a rare compliment.

  3. T Gleaton April 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    Great coverage of unique art — I like the Celeste comment, caint top her wonderful insight into your talents. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Angie April 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    Doug,

    Your stories and beautiful photography allow a gal like me, who is not a world traveler, to experience the wonderful things of the world that I otherwise might not ever encounter. Thank you for the travels!

  5. John Robins April 30, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    Great story; striking photographs. I was totally unaware of this tradition until reading this material. Thanks, Doug.

    • Doug Hall April 30, 2015 at 9:25 pm #

      Thanks Robbo. I always enjoy hearing from my Fan Club Down Under.

  6. LuAnn Brown May 1, 2015 at 3:13 am #

    I’d never heard of this tradition, either. It takes real dedication to create such a piece of art and then wire it to die a spectacular death! Thanks for the photos and story, Doug.

  7. John Pike May 3, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Beautiful imagery and commentary. I have loved Mexican culture ever since I was guided away from downtown Tijuana to a club in the suburbs peopled by locals and me. I had a wonderful time and learned so much about people. I wish I could visit again.

  8. Eva Unhold March 27, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Mr.Hall, It’s Easter and a little under a year since this story came out, I have to thank you for the background, cuz I seen on the Internet today that Mr. Leonardo Linares blew up a figure of Trump this year. Hooray! for him! and for you, without this piece of journalism I would never have known of the tradition of Quemas de Judas and that sometimes a substitute a political figure for the Judas is blown up! Great job!

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  1. Part II, Inside the Linares Studio and Home - J DOUG HALL | Writer, Photographer - May 5, 2015

    […] I featured the story of the Linares Family, some of you asked for more behind the scenes photos. To recap, the Linares Family are world-famous […]

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