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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

Paper Mache Masks

Inexpensive masks of paper or pasteboard (máscaras de cartón), formed over a pottery mold and then painted, have been made in Mexico for perhaps a century or longer. Máscaras Mexicanas, a book featuring photographs of Mexican masks, was initially published in Mexico City in about 1926, with a prologue by Roberto Montenegro. There are about 20 of these paper mache masks in the book, along with others of wood and pre-Conquest masks made of other materials such as stone. Moya Rubio included a selection of these masks in plate 188, on page 157 ( Máscaras: la Otra Cara, 1986). One occasionally sees pottery molds for sale that were said to have been used to manufacture such  paper masks. For example. here are some wonderful molds from the Medicine Man Gallery, in Tucson Arizona:




Today I will begin with two paper masks from my collection, a favorite pair that I purchased years ago from a Saturday Market held weekly at the Plaza del Angel in the Zona Rosa, Mexico City. These two appear to depict story book figures, such as a Queen and a Witch. Here they are, photographed together.

Continue Reading