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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Mexican folkloric creatures, “Alebrijes,” roam the library

Rachel Cormier
The Alebrije Mykel, a toad, butterfly and alien chimera stands above library-goers on the first floor of Founders Memorial Library. Twenty-two pieces from the “Alebrijes: Creatures of a Dream World” will be showcased in the Founders Memorial Library until Nov. 8. (Rachel Cormier | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Mythical spirit animals are giving library-goers a scare, but unlike Disney’s “Coco,” nobody has to go to the Land of the Dead to find them.

Colorful creatures called “Alebrijes” have found a home among the rows and floors of the Founders Memorial Library.

Alebrijes are brightly colored folk depictions of magical beings originating from Mexican folklore. 

The creatures were invented in the 1940s from Mexican artist Pedro Linares who dreamt of multi-colored creatures that embodied different animal body parts and chanted “Alebrije” over and over in his dream. When he woke, Linares created the first sculpture of an Alebrije, and since then, the animals have become a large representation of Mexican folk art.

The ones in the library are part of an exhibit called “Alebrijes: Creatures of a Dream World” that include 22 pieces from five artists from Mexico City.

The exhibit was provided by the DuPage Mexican Cultural Center in West Chicago and was given to the NIU library to showcase.

“About a year and a half ago they were at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, and at the time, we knew, I mean it was outdoors at the time, and we thought, ‘wow, what a beautiful exhibit, wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring it to campus somehow?’” said Fred Barnhart, dean of the university libraries.

Taking a close look at each sculpture, library-goers can not only find a mix of different animals within each creature, but a nametag and background next to each sculpture, detailing the time, materials and inspiration behind each animal.

The orange whale-like fish Jonás taking up most of the front entrance is an homage to artist Edgar Israel Camargo Reyes’s favorite bible story of Jonah and the whale.

Jonás the orange whale Alebrije sculpture lays in front entrance of the Founders Memorial Library. Alebrijes are mythical creatures represented in Mexican Folklore. (Rachel Cormier | Northern Star) (Rachel Cormier)

Unlike the whale that swallowed the biblical Jonah, Jonás is made of chicken wire, papier-mâché and a lacquer finish to brave the elements as best as the aquatic creature can manage on land.

“They had a semi-truck back in towards the front doors, and we took out the centerpiece on the doors and then we’re able to open them and it fit,” Barnhart said. “It fit through, so we just had six people maneuvering it in. It wasn’t terribly heavy; it was more awkward because it was so big.”

Library-goers are encouraged to seek out all 22 pieces scattered throughout the library whether they’re guarding the entrance or hiding among the rafters of the first floor.

Creatures like Jonás have taken students’ eyes up and away from their books with many Alebrijes reaching over 10 feet in length or height. Yet, smaller ones like Pepe, the pink flowery hippopotamus, can still be admired at ankle-level.

Information about the five artists are hung up along the entrance of the library, detailing their creative process and the sculptures they created.

Students have enjoyed seeing the colorful creatures watching over them as they study.

“It was a jump scare at first, but like, I didn’t know they were gonna be here but then I kinda like them,” said Vivian Otto, a freshman nursing major. “It’s colorful and this library doesn’t have much color.”

Danielle Sears, a circulation desk worker, acknowledged how the library has received more attention since the creatures arrived.

“It kind of brightens up the library and it just brings attraction, and it’s really cool, like, seeing the colors and what it’s for,” Sears said.

Barnhart said he hopes to bring in the artists from Mexico to talk about their sculptures but will continue finding interactive events for the library to showcase. 

Visitors can find the Alebrijes hanging throughout Founders until Nov. 8, past the Day of the Dead where the creatures will hopefully return to La Tierra de los Muertos unless they find another library to stay.

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