Marcelo Alamea

Last week we looked at masks that were probably carved by Plácido Alamea, rather than by his son Marcelo Alamea. This week I will show masks that were identified at the time of collection as the work of his son. It is possible that some of these were carved by Plácido. I bought the first of today’s masks on EBay™ in 2010 as an anonymous mask.  Comparing it with masks by Plácido and Marcelo in other collections, it seemed much more likely to be by the latter. My general impression is that the noses on Marcelo’s masks imitate those of his father, but they are often less delicately carved.

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Plácido Alamea

In his Masters Thesis of 1967 on Rio Mayo masks and carvers, James Griffith wrote about Plácido and Marcelo Alamea (pp. 105-107). Marcelo was Plácido’s son and both are deceased. In the Spring of 1965, when Griffith was working in the Rio Mayo region, Plácido was about 60 years old, and living in Jitombrumui, Sonora. He had danced as a Pascola, foot pain led him to retire, but he continued to play the violin at fiestas. “He also makes violins, harps, and masks, and has some reputation as a curandero,” wrote Griffith. Marcelo , who was living in Loma del Refugio, Sonora, was also a mask carver and a festival violinist. Griffith felt that father and son carved similar masks, as if there might be an Alamea family style. He described their masks as having “complex borders” and observed that ” six of the masks have horizontally flat faces with vertically convex cheeks.” When present those cheeks do provide one marker for masks carved by the Alameas, although some of their masks lack this feature.

Mexican Masks, by Donald Cordry, was published in 1980. In that book we find a photo of “Don Plácido” that was taken by Cordry in Antanguisa, Sonora in 1938 (plate 140, page 101); Placído was carving a mask and a completed mask was nearby. According to Leonardo Valdez, who had assembled a Museo (museum) collection of Mayo dance material in Etchojoa, Sonora, this Don Plácido was Plácido Alamea. Leonardo had one of Plácido’s harps on display in the Museo. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate Antanguisa. Griffith shows Jitombrumui on a map that indicates it lay 10 Km. to the west of Navojoa (and 10 km. west of Loma del Refugio, Marcelo’s village).

I visited Jim Griffith at his home near Tucson in 1990, and he kindly allowed me to photograph the masks he had collected during his research among the Mayo Indians of Sonora. At the time I wanted these photos as visual records of carver’s styles (a reference library), and I never sought his permission to publish those images. Since then Jim has donated those masks to the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, Arizona. At about the same time I obtained the book written by James Griffith and Felipe S. Molina, Old Men of the Fiesta:An Introduction to the Pascola Arts (1980), and I began visiting the Arizona State Museum’s Yaqui and Mayo collections. Through these experiences I discovered the masks of Plácido and Marcelo Alamea. Today I will focus on Plácido.

Here is one of the masks carved by Plácido Alamea that was collected by James Griffith during his research in 1965. What a beauty!

From the time that I first discovered Plácido’s classic mask style, I wanted one or more for my collection.  Ultimately one doesn’t get to collect what they want, but what they encounter. I wasn’t able to buy a mask by Plácido until 10 years later, when Tom Kolaz offered to sell me one. As you will later see, this is a very unusual and interesting mask. Then, in around 2005 I obtained a more classic example, which I will show you first. I bought this mask from the John C. Hill Indian Arts Gallery in Scottsdale Arizona, with no provenance. While this mask exemplifies Plácido’s style, I am uncertain whether it was carved by Plácido or Marcelo.

On first glance, you may have noticed that this mask exhibits many generic Rio Mayo Pascola design elements, such as the chevron shaped wedges that flank the nose, a forehead cross composed of four triangles with their points together, a mouth like those on masks by Pancho Parra and Bonifacio Balmea, and hair bundles that frame the face in a circle. These are all typically found on Alamea masks. An unusual detail is the chin cross, which matches the one on the forehead, and appears to be original to the mask. The rims of the eyes were carved in relief, another common feature of masks by the Alameas.

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Bonifacio Balmea Sauzemea

This week I am introducing you more fully to another excellent and prolific Rio Mayo maskmaker, Bonifacio Balmea Sauzemea, of Guayparín, municipio of Etchajoa, Sonora, who is sometimes erroneously referred to as Bonifacio Valenzuela. I had inadvertently included one of Bonifacio’s masks from another collection in my post of September 10, 2018, thinking that it was a mask carved by Pancho Parra. Bonifacio’s masks often resemble those of Pancho Parra, so much so that one commonly finds masks in major collections that were made by one of these carvers but misidentified as the work of the other. I will start with a trio of masks by this artist that I purchased from Tom Kolaz in 1998.

This one was said to date from the 1960s. It has what I call “almond shaped ” eyes, which are commonly seen on Bonifacio’s masks, but alternating with other eye designs, and all these options are to be found on the masks of other Rio Mayo carvers. The rims of these particular eyes are painted but not elevated (not carved in relief).

Bonifacio also chooses from a number of mouth designs. I will call this one a “pointed grin,” when comparing it to his other favorites. Mouths with either flat or curved upper lips and pointed ends are characteristic for this carver, and one could call them auxiliary identifiers, but they too are sufficiently generic that they don’t distinguish one carver from another.

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Mayo Masks from the Mexican State of Sonora: Francisco “Pancho” Parra II

Today we will examine four more beautiful old masks that were carved  by Francisco “Pancho” Parra. I photographed the first three in the collection of Jerry Collings in 2011, and he kindly gave me permission to publish them as I wished. It is my understanding that those three may have been later traded to the Gallery West in Tucson Arizona. The first of these was collected from Eduardo Valenzuela of El Rodeo, Sonora, who said it was made in about 1963.

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A Remarkable Rio Mayo Pascola Mask


I had planned to continue discussion of the masks of Francisco “Pancho” Parra today, but I realized that I was uncertain about certain details. I am postponing that post and substituting the one that was to follow.

I bought today’s attractive and highly unusual mask from my friend Tom Kolaz in 2014. His runner had found it in the Rio Mayo area of Sonora. At that time it was still being danced. The Moroyoqui family of Sonora had originally purchased it circa 1940, it had remained in that extended family until the time of purchase, and the carver was said to be Gerardo Arce, an individual whom the family identified as someone who had carved more than one mask. Gerardo is otherwise unknown to either Tom Kolaz or myself. There are two possibilities here; either Gerardo is a newly identified master carver of great talent, or the carver was actually someone else and the family’s report is in error. The problem, as you may recall from my earlier posts about Yaqui Pascola masks, is that these attributions by sellers frequently appear to be erroneous, when one compares a given mask to those of well recognized carvers. The shaping of the joint between the top of the nose and the forehead of this mask resembles the style of Pancho Parra, whose masks were the subject of my last two posts. However, the mask is otherwise different from those of Pancho in various respects, with some features that seem m/l generic in the Rio Mayo tradition, others found on older anonymous Mayo Pascola masks, and the unusual forehead that seems unique to this mask. To my eye this mask is a masterpiece.

In general, this mask is clearly in the Rio Mayo style, with an oval shape, moderately long hair bundles for the brows and beard, almond shaped eyes, decorative painted design elements that flank the nose, and a slightly open mouth. It may or may not have originally had a tongue. This tongue is a separate wooden element that has been inserted between the teeth and secured with a nail, a traditional variation found on a few other Mayo Pascola masks.

The artistry of the carving and decoration make one think of one of the premier Yaqui carvers of the mid-20th century, Manuel Centella Escalante. Having said this, one must add that the forehead cross and the rim design look nothing like his work. One would be more tempted to think that a Mayo carver saw a Centella mask and was inspired to copy some aspects of his style. Continue Reading

Mayo Masks from the Mexican State of Sonora: Francisco “Pancho” Parra

Another carver included in Jim Griffith’s study (see last week’s post) was “Francisco Parras,” although the author did not include any photos of masks by that artist. One more often sees this man’s name rendered as “Pancho” Parra. He was an excellent and prolific mascarero for many years, and his Pascola masks are heavily represented in several important collections. Pancho has lived in various towns in Sonora, including  Salitrál, a rancho in the Municipio of Alamos, El Retiro, El Rodeo, and Wirachaka. I bought my first mask by Pancho from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1988. It had been brought up from Sonora by Roberto Ruiz with little provenance. I owned it for years before discovering the name of the carver by comparing it to masks in some of those other collections. I just discovered that I probably have a second Pancho Parra mask, having long thought it was by someone else. Had I the opportunity, I would have bought many more masks by this carver, because I really admire his artistry. Fortunately I have permission to include many photos of additional examples from another collection.

Rio Mayo Pascola masks usually lack the carved and/or painted white triangles under the eyes that we find on Yaqui Pascola masks. Instead we often see designs flanking the nose, oval in this instance. The red lips on this mask were apparently painted with nail polish.

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Mayo Masks from the Mexican State of Sonora: Candelario Verduga

I decided to begin a series of posts about Mayo Pascola masks today. I hope that you like them.

In March 1988 I purchased my first two Mayo Pascola masks from Robin and Barbara Cleaver of Santa Fe, New Mexico. These masks had been brought North from Mexico by a Mexican “runner” (picker), Roberto Ruiz. Over time, Roberto turned out to be the original source of many other Yaqui and Mayo Pascola masks that entered my collection, but I first heard of him in connection with this pair. That same Roberto had collected two Mayo Goat Pascola masks that I bought very recently on EBay™, and included in my post of July 30, 2018. Masks supplied by Roberto were sometimes accompanied by information of variable reliability about the town of origin, the name of the carver, the estimated length of use, and perhaps even the name of the dancer who last used the mask, but in this case there was very limited information.

Here is the first of the Mayo Pascola masks that I purchased in 1988. It was said to have been found in La Bocana, in the Municipio of Etchojoa, Sonora. I eventually learned, from Tom Kolaz, that this mask had design features typical of a well known Mayo carver, Candelario Verduga, who had lived in La Bocana. He is deceased.

Here is a YouTube™ video from Pueblo Viejo, a Rio Mayo town that is just 5 km. north of La Bocana. You will see that Mayo Pascola dancers wear shirts, instead of dancing  bare-chested as Yaqui Pascolas do, but otherwise their dance accessories, costume, and style are quite similar to those of Yaqui dancers.

This is an older mask with great patina. I believe that it dates to the 1960s or 70s. It served me as a wonderful introduction to Mayo Pascola masks.

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Other Masks From The Sierra de Juárez, Oaxaca

When I purchased the Tusked Negrito mask (post of August 13, 2018) from the Tesoros Trading Company in Austin Texas, I also obtained two other masks there that appeared to be from the Sierra Juárez area of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, but obviously from other dances. Both had neck straps, one held by a metal staple and the other threaded through a hole in the chin. Since then I have also acquired two other masks, which appeared to be Cubano masks (Negrito masks that lack tusks), from the same region. Today we will examine those four masks, beginning with the Cubanos.

I have introduced you to Barbara Mauldin’s book—Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life. On page 66 (the page facing the one about Tusked Negritos) there is a dance photo of the Cubanos dancers taken in 1964 in Tamazulapan, Oaxaca, wearing the same sort of elaborate costumes that are worn by the Tusked Negrito figures. There is also a photo of a Cubano (or Mulatto) mask from the collection of the Museum of International Folk Art. As you saw in recent posts, there are Negrito masks in the Sierra region that have snouts and tusks, and others which lack these features. It is the latter group that have sometimes been called Mulattos or Cubanos. Currently these masks have black complexions, although they may have been brown or black in the past.

Here is a link to an old photo from Tehantepec, Oaxaca, followed by a YouTube™ video of a Negritos (or Cubanos) dance group from Yalalag, Oaxaca.

And here is a Cubano mask from this region that I purchased from Bob Ibold in 2004. It appears to have great age.

This is such a simple mask, and at the same time, such a superb old mask.

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Tusked Negrito Masks From the Sierra de Juarez, Oaxaca 2

Last week we looked at photos of Tusked Negrito masks from a collection that was probably created in the 1950s and 60s, and then I presented three Tusked Negrito masks that looked like those in a group photo. Today we will examine two additional pairs. I bought the first pair from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1995. They had obtained them from an older Oaxacan collection. There was an identical pair that the Cleavers kept for their own collection, but later sold to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico; you can see those two in Barbara Mauldin’s book, Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life (page 67), where she estimated them as having been made in the mid-1950s. Here are my two masks from that set of four. They are very similar to one another, and each has leather tusks, as do the other two in the museum collection.

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Tusked Negrito Masks From the Sierra de Juarez, Oaxaca

In 1975, Virginia E. Miller, Dudley M. Varner, and Betty A. Brown published an important article in The Masterkey, the Journal of the Southwest Museum (Volume 49, No. 2, April-June 1975, pp. 44-50)—”The Tusked Negrito Mask of Oaxaca.” The authors began by noting that these are but one example of a larger class  of darkly colored masks worn by “masked buffoons” who “act as clowns, masters of ceremony, and policeman during the ceremonies (page 44).” Tusked Negrito masks are used in Zapotec towns in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.”They usually appear in pairs accompanying the Plume Dance” and these masks can also be used in related dances in this region, sometimes in larger groups. There are similar snouted masks that lack tusks in neighboring communities. The authors speculate that the Tusked Negrito image may be a survival of some pre-Conquest tradition. In earlier posts I have shown other examples of masks worn by black-faced ritual clowns, such as Yaqui Pascolas and Negritos from the coastal Mixtec towns.

The Tusked Negrito article includes a photo of four Tusked Negrito masks from the Paul Pérez collection. Here is that image.

The Paul Pérez collection is currently available for viewing in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin, and in the link that follows you can see color photos of three of those four masks—numbers 20, 78, and  81, plus several others (94 and 176). There are many other interesting masks in this collection, of which I would like to highlight just one more—#101—which would appear to be a rather rare example of a Chilolo mask from Oaxaca.

In May of 1996 I found a wonderfully worn Tusked Negrito mask in Austin, Texas, at the Tesoros Trading Company, an ethnographic arts store. Here is a link to that store; Tesoros is still there, although I don’t see any masks for sale on their website.

Here is that mask. The wooden or leather tusks are missing, but the recesses that had held them are evidence of their earlier presence. Next week I will show you a nearly identical pair of masks with their leather tusks intact,but this week I want to focus on a variety of examples like the ones in the Pérez Collection photo.

Tusked Negrito masks tend to have snouted mouths. The tusks can be made from leather or wood.

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