Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez 2

Last week we looked at four Rio Mayo Pascola masks that were carved by Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez in the 1980s and 90s, and then they were danced in Mayo fiestas for ten or twenty years, each possibly by just one dancer. This week we will examine five Rio Mayo masks from a parallel tradition, that of made-for sale masks. These too were made by Francisco Gámez, but most of them in a more colorful and less traditional style. They were briefly danced, perhaps for several fiestas, by Pascola dancers in the Sinaloa Mayo towns. This set of five and five more in next week’s post were all collected during the late 1980s by Barney Burns and Mahina Drees, and I traveled west to Tucson to photograph their collection in 2016. Here is a link to an earlier post where I told a little more about Barney and Mahina, in the context of discussion of Yoeme (Yaqui) Pascola masks.


I should note that all ten of these masks originally had attached hair bundles to form the brows and beard, but insects have destroyed the hair on many of these masks. On the positive side, the absence of hair makes the details of these masks much easier to see. I didn’t measure any of these masks.

Also I should repeat an observation expressed by Mahina Drees, that some of these masks could have been carved by Serapio Gámez , the father of Francisco Gámez, and she was often uncertain whether a mask was carved by one or the other.

Here is the first of today’s group, a mask with the face of a bird, and with smaller birds flanking the forehead cross. Bird-faced masks are actually very uncommon in the Rio Mayo villages, as human faced masks are the preferred style. Apparently this mask was actually danced by a Mayo Pascola dancer in Sinaloa, where goat-faced masks are the most common style and bird faced masks are slightly less rare. The rest of today’s masks have human faces.

This is quite playful, attractive, and very well carved, isn’t it, although absolutely non-traditional.

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Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez

There is one more important 20th century Rio Mayo carver that we have not yet mentioned—Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez of Masiaca, Sonora. Paco has been a prolific carver for decades, supplying many of the Mayo Pascola dancers. His masks have generally reflected and maintained design details familiar to us from the masks of earlier mid-20th century carvers. However, as a wave of innovation swept Mayo masks in recent decades, Francisco also participated in this trend. Today I will begin with some of his most traditional masks, examples that proved to be “keepers,” valued and used by Pascolas over a span of ten or twenty years. The first of these was probably made in the 1980s, and then collected from its 60 year old dancer, Locadio Yarimea Bacacehua from El Guayparín Bajio in 2008, by Tom Kolaz. I bought it from Tom in 2010. The simplicity of this mask has been ennobled by the deep patina that resulted from such long use, so that the lengthy ritual work of the dancer has been made manifest. How glad I was to be able to acquire such cultural objects.

The mouth of this mask glows.

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An Anonymous Rio Mayo Mask with Spots

In February 2005 I purchased an attractive and heavily danced Rio Mayo Pascola mask from Karima Muyaes, one of the daughters of Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón. She had recently purchased the mask in Navojoa, Sonora. It came without the name of the carver, nor do I recognize this hand. In contrast to the made-for-sale masks that we had examined last week, this one is nicely carved and heavily danced.

The extended tongue on this mask was carved from a separate piece of wood and fastened in place between the teeth.

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Made For Sale Pascola Masks On The Rio Mayo

In April 2006 I had the great pleasure of traveling with a group from the Arizona State Museum, in Tucson, to the Rio Mayo villages in Sonora to observe Easter celebrations by the Mayo Indians there. We were led by Diane Dittemore, a curator at the Arizona State Museum, with the assistance of Emiliano Gallega Murrieta, an ASM Intern who had grown up in Sonora. We visited Leonardo Valdez, who had established a Museo in Etchohoa to display his collection of Mayo Fiesta regalia. By coincidence, we ran into Bill and Heidi LeVasseur there; they later established a mask museum in San Miguel D’Allende, and Bill’s book followed to catalogue their museum collection—Another Face of Mexico (Art Guild Press, Santa Fe New Mexico, 2014).


The group encountered a number of Mayo Pascola dancers, and we saw some attractive masks being danced, but it seemed that those were not available for sale at that time, and perhaps they were already promised to Leonardo Valdez. Then again, it is also my impression that danced masks are frequently not sold in the exciting time surrounding a fiesta, particularly if the dancer is using his favorite mask. Later, when the dancer wishes to raise cash, he may sell a mask that is no longer wanted.

We also visited with several mascareros (mask carvers) and they did sometimes have new and undanced masks to sell. This leads me to the subject of “made-for-sale masks.” Popular carvers are often asked by Pascola dancers to make masks to order, with particular desired features and sized to suit that dancer. However, in the absence of such orders the carver may elect to produce masks that he hopes to sell to some future customer. These made-for-sale masks may reflect local traditional design preferences or not. Ultimately they will prove to be either suitable or unsuitable for use by the average Pascola dancer, depending on the mask’s details and the dancer’s preferences. The suitable masks are meant to interest dancers as well as tourists or collectors, while the unsuitable ones are obviously produced for the latter groups and not for traditional use. Thus the term made-for sale is not inherently indicative of whether a mask is faithful to local traditions or not. In today’s post we will look at a pair of made-for-sale masks.

I bought this first mask from Arnulfo Yocupicio when we visited him at his workshop, in Masiaca, Sonora. I don’t know whether Arnulfo is related to Manuel Yocupicio. He carves traditional human faced Pascola masks that are painted black, along with others of dogs or wolves. Here is one of those wolf masks. Although such canine masks are popular among Yaqui Pascola dancers, one only occasionally sees danced Mayo examples.

This mask has very long (and carefully applied) hair, a trait that Rio Mayo carvers had recently copied from the Rio Fuerte Mayo style in Sinaloa.

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An Anonymous Rio Mayo Pascola Mask That Was Damaged by A Firecracker

I bought this mask from Tom Kolaz in 1998. The carver was unknown, and the mask, which was found in La Union, Sonora (near Huatabampo), was thought to date to the 1930s. Many years ago, in the course of a fiesta, firecrackers (typically cohetes, or small rockets) were set off. One of these somehow flew off in the wrong direction, entered a sack containing this mask, and exploded. During a fiesta, individual skyrockets can be set off to communicate with God, or many rockets can be attached to a wooden framework that is carried through the fiesta on someone’s back. These fireworks tend to fly off in many different directions, as I observed during a Rio Mayo fiesta in 2006. Probably it was such a rocket that damaged the mask.

Here is a photo that I took in the Sierra de Puebla of a celebrant setting off an individual cohete. He lit the wick with the smoldering wood that he is holding in his right hand, and his left hand will release the rocket when he fells it pulling against his grip. This one went straight up, as planned. If he had released it too soon it might have fallen to the ground and slithered off just above ground level.

At any rate, such a rocket ended up in proximity to this mask, and the chin of the mask was damaged. Later, paper package tape was plastered over the the rough edges, and the mask remained in service for many years longer, so that the paper tape acquired its own patina. Here is this damaged old mask.

This mask has an oversized nose, and an extended tongue that is carved in high relief. The openings for vision are just a little different than most of the ones we have seen in this series, being horizontal on the lower edge and curved on the upper edge. There is a broad snouted area over the mouth.

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A Rio Mayo Mask By Juan Sotomea

Today’s mask is one that I received in a trade, back in 1996. It had been originally collected in Sonora from the niece of the carver, Juana Sotomea, probably in the mid-1980s. Juana identified the carver as Juan Sotomea, of Paredón, Sonora. This mask has the convex cheeks that we find on masks by the Alameas, but it has a nose design that rules both of them out as the potential carver. This is a traditional and well carved mask that is typical of the overall Rio Mayo style. Although the lower teeth are broken, this mask has wonderful patina and I find it highly attractive for that reason. It was said to have been carved circa 1960.

The face of this mask is entirely covered with pink and white paint; both colors are worn and faded. The hair bundles for the beard are entirely gone, while most of those for the brow remain. The teeth of the upper jaw were indicated by inscribed vertical lines, and probably the lower teeth were as well, but that lower area was long ago broken, and the broken edge is darkly stained following further use.

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An Old Rio Mayo Mask that Was Danced By A Grandfather, His Son, and His Grandson

I bought today’s mask from Tom Kolaz in March, 2017 . He found it interesting because the Mayo family in Pozo Dulce Sonora who sold it indicated that it had been used by three generations of Pascola dancers. The seller, who was the grandson of the original owner, was 70 years old! The mask had obvious age  to support this history, and I suspect that it could easily date to circa 1940 or even earlier. The grandson reported that his grandfather was the carver, but that individual’s name was not recorded. Nor did Tom find the style indicative of a known carver. Therefor I bought it as a terrific, old, but anonymous mask and hung it in a place of honor on the wall, with the expectation that the name of the carver was probably forever lost. As you will see, one aspect of this mask that serves to obfuscate it’s identity is the style of the hair, which is extremely long and silky, of horsetail, copying contemporary Sinaloa Mayo style.

When I looked again at this mask recently, I kept thinking that it had familiar features. Having just studied a number of Rio Mayo Pascola masks for this blog, I am seeing this mask with fresh eyes. At the end of the post I will tell you whose hand I am reminded of, but meanwhile you can play this game for yourself. Here is this week’s mystery mask, and to the right are links to my recent posts about identified Rio Mayo carvers (September, October, and November 2018).

At first glance, the most obvious feature of this mask is the extreme length of the hair, a characteristic found in contemporary Pascola masks made in the Rio Fuerte Mayo villages of Sinaloa. Given its age, this mask has probably been re-haired more than once, and this Sinaloa style hair has been showing up on Yaqui and Rio Mayo masks in recent years.

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An Anonymous Rio Mayo Pascola Mask With a Relief Carved Cross

Masks often arrive in the hands of a collector without the name of the carver. Through comparison with other masks in Museums and private collections, it is often possible to attribute an anonymous mask to a particular known carver’s style. Sometimes this attribution is easy, because the mask is so characteristic of a particular hand. However, there are inevitably other masks that defy such identification. I will be featuring such unidentified masks in a series of posts, beginning with this one.

I purchased this mask from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in October, 1988. It had recently been discovered by Roberto Ruiz in Navojoa, Sonora, a Mayo market town near other Rio Mayo villages. The most distinctive feature of this mask is the forehead cross, in this case a Christian Cross that has been carved in relief. You may recall that we have examined a few masks with painted Christian crosses and several more with inscribed (or gouged) Christian crosses, but this is the only example known to me of a Rio Mayo mask with a Christian cross that was carved in relief, and the majority of Rio Mayo masks have gouged Maltese crosses. The black paint of the face appears to be old and worn, while the areas painted white and red may have been redesigned and/or repainted. In other words, this mask may have had a different appearance when it was new. It is certainly handsome now.

There are what are called “triangular” eyes. The nose also has a triangular profile, from the side and from the front.

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Manuel Yocupicio Zamora

In a series of recent posts I have reviewed the Pascola masks of some of the carvers identified by James Griffith during field work in the Rio Mayo area of Sonora in 1965. There are a number of additional Rio Mayo carvers that were discussed in Griffith’s Masters Thesis of 1967, including Manuel Yocupicio Zamora, Tránsito Duarte, Manuel Bacasewa, Felipe Buitimea, Rosario Jilomeno, Brígido Moroyoki, Escolástico Piña, Domingo Vaípuri, Álvaro Villaneuva, Teodoro Wikosa, Luciano Angwamea, Lupe Montañez, Pedro Osimea, Ancencio Valenzuela. Santos Valenzuela, Andres Wokovatchi, and Guillermo Yocupicio. I invite you to look at the mask photos and supporting information that Griffith provided, which you can survey once again using the link that follows. I particularly call your attention to a mask by Andres Wokovatchi (M3 on p. 48a), and another by Acencio Valenzuela (M1, p. 49a), which are classic examples of the Pascola masks that were made on the Rio Mayo in the 1920s. These are rare and wonderful. Here is the link.


Today, in a final post related to the carvers featured in Griffith’s Masters Thesis, I will draw your attention to a photograph in the Masters Thesis of a mask that was carved by Manuel Yocupicio Zamora (M26, p. 48d, Arizona State Museum #2005-86-3). You can find this photo in the link just provided or in the one that follows.


Griffith wrote of this mask that “the face is scooped out, rather than flat or convex” (page between pp. 47 and 48). This was apparently the only mask in the sample that demonstrated such scooping. I was interested to learn more about this mask, because I had an anonymous Rio Mayo mask in my collection that could also be described as “scooped out.” Could I use this attribute to identify Manuel as the probable carver of my anonymous mask? To make a long story short, the answer is “No.” My mask was scooped in a dramatically different fashion than the one by Manuel that was collected by James Griffith.

I have examined the M26 mask at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, and the “scooped” carving does indeed set it off from most of the Rio Mayo masks that we have seen. Here is a drawing of Manuel’s mask from the side view, to better demonstrate Griffith’s use of  “scooped out”.

One might call this a sunken face, because it is creased at eye level so that, when viewed from the front, the plain of the lower part slopes away from the viewer as it rises to the eyes, and then the space over the eyes juts forward. This is an unusual way to depict the human face. The bent line to the left of the face is meant to characterize the relationship between the  two planes of the face. With this additional view in mind, you might like to flip back to the frontal photograph on the Internet link, and look again at M26 from this new perspective. While you are there, notice that the second mask from the left, in the line of photos above M26, is M1 (Arizona State Museum #2005-86-1), the 1920s Rio Mayo mask by Acencio Valenzuela, and that this mask does have a similarly folded face. Manuel has apparently made his mask in an older style.

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Benito Moroyoki

Benito Moroyoki was another of the Rio Mayo carvers who were included in James Griffith’s Masters Thesis of 1967 (M29, page 48). Unfortunately, Griffith included no information about this artist, beyond a photo of one mask that he later donated to the Arizona State Museum. Here is a link to a photo of that mask, 2005-89-29 (the Arizona State Museum number for M29). Due to a flawed algorithm, the link will falsely label other masks as Benito’s that were really carved by other artists.


Benito Moroyoki’s masks are attractive, well carved, and relatively rare, so I have long admired them, but I never have had the opportunity to buy one for my collection. When I attended the museum of Leonardo Valdez in Etchojoa, Sonora with a group from the Arizona State Museum in 2006, Leonardo stated that although these masks were said to have been carved by Benito Moroyoki of Embarcadero Sonora, they were actually carved by Candelario Verdugo; for some unknown reason Candelario wished to create a second style of masks. At present both Candelario and Leonardo are deceased, so this assertion of Leonardo’s is not so easy to verify or deny. In any event, the masks said to have been carved by Benito do not closely resemble those of Candelario, and I will present them to you under Benito’s name. I count myself fortunate to have been permitted in 2011 to photograph an exciting group of masks that were said to be by Benito, when they were in the collection of Jerry Collings. Here is the first of this group, said to have been carved c. 1950.

This very old example has surely been repainted, and probably more than once. Nevertheless, we can assume that all of the carved elements are probably original. For example, the shape of the eyes, nose, and mouth, and the overall shape of the mask, will be seen to be design details that mark the style of Benito Moroyoki in all of today’s masks. This is the only one of the five masks that does not have an extended tongue (the mask in the Internet link also has an extended tongue). All five have elaborate inscribed decorative elements, of which three include inscribed flowers, and all five have inscribed crosses in the Maltese or Patée style

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