Pedro Linares, 85; Mexican Folk Artist

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pedro Linares, a Mexican folk artist who won international recognition for his papier-mache skeletal figures called calaveras , has died in Mexico City. He was 85.

Linares died Sunday, according to Judith Bronowski, the independent film producer and gallery owner who established Linares internationally with her 1975 documentary titled "Pedro Linares: Papier-Mache Artist."

Bronowski said Linares, who sculpted with his three sons and three of his grandsons, had worked in his studio as recently as Friday before suddenly becoming ill. He had a history of gastric ulcers.

Linares was one of the few Mexican folk artists who received public recognition for making the calaveras , skeletons and skulls to honor dead ancestors, each Nov. 1 and 2, celebrated in Mexico as the Dias de Los Muertos (Days of the Dead).

His work, along with that of son Miguel and grandson Ricardo, was exhibited through Dec. 31 last year in a private gallery at Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. The commissioned exhibit included 20 figures with the costumes and equipment of filmmakers.

"This body of work is very important to us, because it's a new theme," Linares told The Times last month. "We usually make calaveras doing traditional jobs, and with traditional Mexican themes."

In addition to Miguel and Ricardo, Linares had shared his Mexico City studio with his other two sons, Enrique and Felipe, and grandsons Leonardo and David. The figures they create range from dancers and musicians to newspaper delivery boys.

Bronowski's documentary was last presented on Dec. 21 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The artistic patriarch, whose figures sold for $500 to $3,500 each, had exhibited his work in such places as the Smithsonian in Washington, the Indianapolis Children's Museum, the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum, the San Diego Museum of Man and the Fullerton Museum Center.

Linares became a cartonero , or papier-mache sculptor, when he was 12. From the outset, he stretched the craft far beyond the simple masks and small horses that his father had made.

In addition to the skeletons and skulls, he and his family also made the "Judas" figures (last year Saddam Hussein was popular) to burn on Good Friday in recognition of Christ's biblical betrayal by Judas. But a family favorite was the alebrijes , bright dragon-like creatures with huge eyes and several horns that Linares envisioned when he was deathly ill in 1945.

"I saw them in a dream," he told The Times. "They were very ugly and terrifying and they were coming toward me. I saw all kinds of ugly things."

But while the familiar skeletons were popular, people hesitated to purchase the strange creatures.

"People didn't want to buy the albrijes . They were too ugly," he said. "So I began to change them and make them more colorful."

A widower since 1973, Linares is survived by his sons, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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