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 ageĀ  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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