A Mask From Etsy

Recently I purchased this old mask from the “HowOriginalStore” of Austin Texas, an Etsy™ vendor. An old tag on the mask simply stated that it was from the Mexican State of Puebla. To my eye it looked very similar to a mask in a special issue of the journal Masterkey—Mexican Masks From the Southwest Museum Collection (Volume 62, Numbers 2 & 3, Summer / Fall 1988, page 23, figure 31),  which was from Tuxpan in the Mexican state of Jalisco,  and appeared in La Danza del Chayacate. The mask illustrated has a male face with a painted mustache and carved ears. To my eye this mask was carved by the same hand as the one in the Masterkey issue, however it has a woman’s face.

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An Old Mayo Pascola Mask That I Forgot

During a series of posts about older Rio Mayo Pascola masks in my collection, I overlooked the one I will show you today. I bought this mask from Tom Kolaz in 2014. It had been recently collected from its elderly dancer , Don Moises of Tetanchopo, Sonora, who reported that he had been given the mask in the 1950s, and it was already 10 or 20 years old when he received it. So it might date to the 1930s or 1940s. Here it is.

Over the years the relief carved lips of this mask have been painted black, which causes them to seem less impressive than they actually are.

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Others From the Current Generation of Rio Mayo Carvers

In recent posts we have examined the work of contemprary Rio Mayo carvers.  I think of these artists as members of a school, a group of individuals, like the French Impressionists, each with his own style, but working within the same general framework, and perhaps influencing one another. What the Mayo artists appear to share is a new-found freedom to experiment, whereas earlier carvers may have felt more bound by tradition and less free to differentiate their individual craftsmanship from the primary task of providing a necessary product, a dance instrument.

My friend Tom Kolaz has become very interested in this group of younger artists, and in recent decades he has been collecting examples of their work. I appreciate his willingness to pass some of their masks along to me. This week I will share four of these that I purchased from Tom, over the years.

I obtained the first of these during a visit to Tucson in December of 2011. The carver is Juan Alfonso Soto López, whose nickname is “Salo.” He is a highly regarded mask maker in his community. This mask was carved in 2000, and danced for ten years.

This mask has long hair in the Sinaloa style.

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Cuco II

Last week I had introduced you to Refugio Hipólito Ruiz Quintero, of La Bocana, Sonora, whose nickname is Cuco. Today we will examine two of his masks that I purchased in January, 2012, after they were danced for several years in Rio Mayo fiestas. Like three of last week’s masks, these are carved in a traditional design that reflects the work of an earlier generation of Rio Mayo carvers.

This mask was carved by Cuco in 2008. It was danced for 2½ years by Joaquin “Chano” Valenzuela Encinas from Chapote Chucari, Sonora, who was 27 years old when he sold the mask to an agent for Tom Kolaz. Joaquin’s father-in-law is Alfredo  Lopez, also a Pascola. Cuco stated that the design of the mask represents la bandara de Jesús, “Christ’s Flag,”

Again we see a Rio Mayo mask that has been fitted with the long hair and brows found in Mayo areas of Sinaloa.

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I began this series of posts about Mayo Pascola masks from Sonora by examining the work of carvers who had been studied by James Griffith, back in 1965. Gradually we have been shifting towards other carvers and more recent masks. In last week’s post about masks with relief carved snakes we clearly ventured into the world of contemporary Rio Mayo carvers, and they will be the subject of the next few posts. Today I will begin with the contemporary carver whose masks introduced me to this group, back in 2010. As has often been the case, I learned about this artist from my friend Tom Kolaz, who said, “His artistry blows me away.” We agreed that we should buy some masks by this talented young man in order to encourage him to develop as an artist, and over the year that followed I purchased four undanced masks.

As it turned out, Cuco was stimulated by our support. He had already been making masks that were modeled on those of the last generation of carvers, such as Bonifacio Balmea, and this is the style that you will see in this post. However he also began to experiment more bravely with a modern style that appealed to Pascolas who were his contemporaries. These new-style masks were an immediate hit, and over just a few years Cuco became quite popular with these younger dancers, so much so that none of his most exciting masks ever came my way. I tell this not out of unhappiness, but to alert you that the masks in my collection are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and his recent masks are among the very best in the Mayo area.

Initially I didn’t even have a name for this carver, later I learned that his nickname was “Cuco,” and eventually Tom told me that his formal name is Refugio Hipólito Ruiz Quintero and that he lives in a very small town near Etchojoa, Sonora. I will call him Cuco. You will see that the artistry of Cuco’s carving speaks for itself. Here is one of the masks from that first group of four.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the very long eyebrows and beards seen on Mayo Pascola masks in Sinaloa have gradually been adopted by the Rio Mayo carvers in recent years.

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Rio Mayo Masks With Snakes

In 2004 I purchased a Rio Mayo Pascola mask from Dinah Gaston that had snakes carved in relief on the face. Dinah had visited Leonardo Valdez in Etchojoa in June, 2000, and he had taken her to a fiesta. There she obtained this mask from the lead Pascola, Bartolo, who reported that he had danced with it for 15 years. According to Tom Kolaz, Bartolo Matus was not only the lead Pascola in Etchojoa at that time, but also he probably was the mask’s carver. Perhaps he was also the originator of this style’s use in the Rio Mayo villages, Tom speculated. He was so intrigued by this mask that he made further inquiries through contacts he had in that region, and ultimately he discovered additional masks there with relief carved snakes on their faces. I obtained one of these from Tom in 2006. In today’s post I will show you these two exciting masks.

Here is the one that was collected by Dinah Gaston in 2000. It was said to date to c. 1985.

The snake bodies create the illusion of exaggerated cheekbones.

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Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez 4

Today I will show you more masks by Francisco Gámez that are in my collection. The first mask, which I purchased from my friend Tom Kolaz in July of 1998, has the fangs of a Vampire. This mask had apparently been brought up to a Tucson Indian Arts store by Barney Burns and Mahina Drees. There it was purchased by a Yaqui Pascola dancer, Reynaldo Romero Matus, who lived at the New Pascua Indian Reservation. He danced with this mask at Nogales in October of 1989, and later sold it to Kolaz.

The rim design is painted but not inscribed. This style, a row of connected triangles accented with dots, is apparently one of  Francisco’s favorites. Continue Reading

Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez 3

This week we will examine five more masks from the collection of Barney Burns and Mahina Drees Burns that were carved by Héctor Francisco “Paco” Gámez, or perhaps by his father, Serapio Gámez. Of these, the first is traditional in design, and has been heavily danced, the three that follow are experimental in their use of colors and were mildly danced, and the fifth is a copy of a much older mask. Only the last of the five still has its hair; insects ate the hair on the other four.

I really like the first of these, because it has such a jolly appearance. It was made in 1984, heavily danced, and collected in the late 1980s by Roberto Ruiz.

The rim design of dotted triangles is familiar to us by now.

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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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