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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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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