Modern wooden racoon sculpture by folk artist David Alvarez. Carved by hand and then meticulously painted, the sculpture also features natural fiber whiskers. Signed underneath by the artist.
David Alvarez (1953–) discovered his talent as an animal woodcarver under the tutelage of Felipe Archuleta, the acknowledged master of the form. He then developed a unique style that has placed him among the finest of New Mexico’s celebrated creators of folk art animals. Alvarez was raised in West Oakland, California, but moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the suggestion of a friend, in the mid-1970s. In 1976 the same friend introduced Alvarez to Archuleta, who was then enjoying newfound success as the father of an original woodcarving style. Archuleta’s roughly carved and painted representations of domestic and wild animals had thrust him into the limelight in international folk art circles, and the demand for his work had skyrocketed. Unable to keep up with his orders, Archuleta took on a number of apprentices, including Alvarez. Alvarez had no prior artistic experience, but immediately upon entering Archuleta’s Tesuque, New Mexico, workshop he assumed important artistic duties. His first assignment was to paint a large, fantailed turkey that Archuleta had carved by hand. With no instruction from Archuleta, Alvarez looked to the master’s examples: large, often life-size, cottonwood images of tigers, bears, lions, zebras, giraffes, and other exotic animals, as well as fish, snakes, dogs, and everyday house pets. These were commonly depicted by Archuleta in menacing poses, wearing colorful coats of latex house paint, with toothpicks for teeth, nails for claws, and marble eyes. Despite intense criticism by Archuleta, Alvarez patiently endured the pressures of learning, contributing carved or painted details to Archuleta’s works. As Alvarez’s techniques improved, and he began carving his own creations, his unique style and expression began to emerge. The result is an eclectic animal menagerie—including armadillos, raccoons, sows, and piglets—characterized by soft, endearing, and humorous representations, as opposed to Archuleta’s more aggressive pets. Even in Alvarez’s popular “killer pig” creations, in which the animal’s rigid posture and bared teeth and tongue create an illusion of aggression, the animal’s charm shines through. Alvarez refined his distinctive talents and artistic touches through hundreds of signature works, though he rarely innovated or departed drastically from what he learned from Archuleta. Alvarez’s years with Archuleta established him as an accomplished animal carver, creating a demand for his work from private collectors, tourist shops, galleries, and museums. Indeed, for many animal collectors, Alvarez’s works became the preferred carving style. By the mid-1980s, Alvarez had left Archuleta’s workshop to establish his own in Santa Fe. He continues to carve and sell his works in local folk art shops and to private collectors.
H 9.38 in. x W 4.63 in. x D 19 in.