For several months we have examined Mayo masks from lowland villages along the Rio Mayo, in Sonora. Then I took a break from Mayo masks to discuss some recent acquisitions or discoveries. Now we will spend two weeks with masks from a village that is also on the Rio Mayo, but much further to the Northeast in a mountainous region. The masks in this week’s post were made in Vado Cuate, a small town North of the City of Alamos. I will start with four masks from Vado Cuate that I obtained from Tom Kolaz in 2005. The carver, Luciano Valenzuela, is a Mayo Indian, his wife is Guarijío (or Warijío), and the masks are used by both Mayo and Guarijího Pascola dancers. The latter Indians live over the border from Sonora, in Chihuahua.
These masks are carefully carved, they are carefully fitted with hair bundles that are held by pegs, and they are painted with bright colors in an informal manner. They don’t appear to be painted for artistic excellence, but to achieve a functional effect—to be suitable for a Pascola to wear during a fiesta. All four of these masks were danced during a fiesta in December 2004, and then they were purchased by a collector. Here is the first.
Some of these masks lack a rim design, nor do they have any other decoration, such as painted wedges on the cheeks. This one simply has a Maltese cross painted on the forehead.
Today, sweeping up some of the last of my unposted masks from the coastal Mayo towns, I am starting with two attractive Pascola masks by Estaban González Leva, which I bought in 1995 from INAH, a government museum shop in Mexico City. These are modern and sophisticated in style, and they lack forehead crosses. Due to the long hair, I assumed that these were Mayo masks, even though a tiny tag on the Pig declared that it was Yaqui. I know nothing more about this carver, so I can’ t even say whether they are definitely Yaqui or Mayo. I would think that these were carved for sale to dancers or collectors.
Then I am adding a trio of masks by Juan Nieblas that I bought from Tom Kolaz in 2007. At that time, Juan lived in Santa Bárbara, a tiny Rio Mayo village in the Municipio of Alamos, Sonora. In contrast to the first two, these masks are more traditional in design, but brightly painted. Tom purchased these three masks from the manager of a Pascola group, during a fiesta; they were to be danced, but Tom bought them before this could occur.
The first of the masks by Estaban González Leva appears to have a clown’s face (or the face of an evil character in a Batman™ movie).
Note the long brow hair and the extremely long beard, in the tradition of Sinaloa Mayo masks and characteristic of recent Rio Mayo masks.
Recently a remarkable female mask turned up on EBay™. It depicts a beautiful Caucasian female face, which has been carved with extreme delicacy. One would not doubt for a moment that it was carved by a santero, an artisan whose primary occupation was the carving of wooden statues of Christian saints. The seller, who was also offering several masks that were clearly in the style of Carlos Reyes Acoltzin, a santero from Tlaxcala, Mexico, attributed this mask to that artist. However, although this is a superbly crafted mask, it is not typical of Acoltzin’s style, nor is it particularly similar to other Carnival masks from Tlaxcala. Those masks often lack carved ears, and when ears are present they not so elaborate. If it were several inches taller, I would think that this mask was worn by a Borracha in the Toritos dance in the area of Sileo, Guanajuato. (see my post of December 4, 2017).
After staring long and hard, I am doubtful that this is a Carnaval (Carnival) mask from Tlaxcala. It is probably a Female Huehue or Carnival mask from the Sierra de Puebla, where carved ears are the rule, rather than the exception. In that case it could have come from either the Mexican State of Puebla or from that of Veracruz. There is the possibility that it is a Maringuilla mask from the state of Michoacán, but they don’t usually have ears either. Faced with such ambiguity, I usually look for carving details like these to point me in one direction or another.
What is it that makes this mask so different from the familiar styes of Tlaxcala, Michoacán, and the Sierra de Puebla? The most obvious difference is the expression of this face, so serious or even haunting! If I only look at this expression, then I think that this is a mask of an Angel, who has come to tell the Virgin Mary serious predictions at the moment of the Anunciation. The EBay seller, equally impressed by this expression, nicknamed the mask—”Elvis Lives.” Both of these hypotheses are punctured by the jarring discrepancy of the carved flowers in the hair, another unusual feature. In passing, note the asymmetry of this mask.
This older Mayo mask was collected by Edmond Faubert sometime in the 1970s from an undocumented location. It is traditionally carved but eccentrically painted. I have seen one other Mayo mask with such paint and that one was also found by Faubert, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
Edmond sold this mask to a Santa Fe Indian Arts dealer in the late 70s, and it eventually came into the hands of Tom Kolaz. Recently he sold it to me.
The patina on this turquoise paint is terrific
Recently I was privileged to purchase a very rare mask, a Moreno mask used in Southern Tepehuán performances. The Southern Tepehuán Indians live in scattered communities in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Nayarit. This mask was purchased by Edmond Faubert in Nayarit, probably in the early 1980s, and he subsequently sold it to a Tucson Collector in 1984. As it happens, I had photographed it in that collection in the 1990s. It later passed through the hands of several other owners; most recently Tom Kolaz acquired it in a trade and sold it to me.
These Tepehuán Moreno masks are so rare that they have seldom appeared in reference books about Mexican Masks. In Máscaras Mexicanas: Simbolismos Velados, which was the catalogue for a mask exhibit held in Mexico City in 2015 (INAH, ed. Sofía Martínez del Campo Lanz, page 238), there is a very similar mask, described as a “Moreno” from the Tepehuán del Sur (Southern Tepehuán) culture. It had been used in the Danza de los Morenos in San Francisco de Ocotán, Mezquital, Durango, and was believed to date from the 19th century. Broken, patched together, and worn, it is in the collection of the Comisíon Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indigenas in the Ciudad de México.
I have not learned much about La Danza de los Morenos. “Moreno” means a dark skinned person. Edmond Faubert told Tom Kolaz that he believed these Moreno masks were analagous to the Chapeon masks used by the Tarahumaras in the Matachines dance and that the Tepehuanes had learned this dance from their Tarahumara neighbors. In support of this, I have learned that the Tepehuanes do perform the Matachines dance in Durango. Here is the mask.
The mustache, held on with metal staples, is probably made with horse tail.