The use of Models

A friend asked me about one of the masks in my Mexican Masks and Puppets book, and it occurred to me that because the mask photos in the book are small, there was seldom room for more than two views, and the text itself was small and limited due to space constraints, some details from the book would be far easier to illustrate on this blog. Today’s discussion concerns masks on pages  110  and 113, the latter carved by José González Galindo.

I met José in December, 2007. He owned a small general store in Coxquihui, Veracruz, and behind the store he had a workshop where he carved masks. There I saw a broken fragment of a mask; it was obviously old. Looking at it more closely, I was impressed that it had once been a very beautiful mask. José explained that he had not been the carver, and indeed the carver was unknown. He had obtained it somewhere, and kept it as a model. In the Sierra de Puebla, a mask maker will use a mask that he likes to create something similar. Usually a carver would not make an exact copy, but the model would suggest a shape and proportions, maybe even some design details. Often a young carver would model his first masks on those of his father, and then he would go on to develop his own style. Here is this model used by José. I believe it was meant to represent a Perro (d0g).

This mask was very finely carved, with carefully shaped openings for vision, and beautiful features such as the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and teeth. This was a mask carved by an unknown master carver, decades earlier.

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Another Mystery Arrival, From Chiapas

Last week some of us waited together to see some new arrivals from a Texas collection that had originally been gathered in the 1950s and later. We examined seven masks from the Sierra de Juárez that had earlier been in the collection of Rex and Dolly Marcum, who lived in San Gabriel Etla, Oaxaca and are now long deceased. I have other masks in my collection that were obtained later from their estate.

Today we will examine an eighth mask from the Texas collection. This one is clearly not in the style of the Sierra de Jauréz and is not from the Marcum collection. It was obtained from a female dealer in the city of Oaxaca, probably in the late 1970s or early 1980s; the seller recalls simply that this dealer’s name was Schöndube, and I am assuming that she was a dealer in Mexican folk arts such as textiles, pottery and masks. The Cleavers have vague recollections of visiting Schöndube’s shop in the 1970s. This is of course an unusual name to encounter in Mexico, and a search yielded only a few individuals with that name.

Fortunately, the little that was discovered seemed sufficient to shed some light on this dealer and her family. First I located a print for sale on the Etsy™ site that was labeled as the work of “C. Schöndube, 1963.”

Here is the link to that interesting and attractive print, which illustrates the variety of native costumes worn by indigenous women in the state of Oaxaca. Evidently C. Schöndube had some expertise in this subject, which would certainly fit with the profession of managing a Mexican folk art store in the same state.

Then I discovered that the various individuals with the Schöndube name were all members of one family. The relevant passage is in the second paragraph—”Poco antes …”

“un vendedor de maquinaria, que procedía de la Ciudad de México, el alemán Enrique Schöndube, quien levantó un pedido. En uno de sus viajes por occidente, se enamoró y se casó con una tapatía, Luisa Kebe Quevedo, hija de Eduardo Kebe y de Luisa Quevedo, procrearon a: Luisa, Isabel, Margarita, Enrique, Otto y Clotilde. [Enrique Schöndube, a German person who sold machinery, met, fell in love with, and apparently married Louisa Kebe Quevedo. A list followed of their six children.]” Apparently our person of interest was Clotilde. Her brother Otto was a 20th century Mexican archeologist. I am sure that this was an interesting family.
I don’t tell you all of this because I find it interesting in itself, but to introduce this dealer with the hope that some of you can add to the story. Probably she sold many interesting masks. Maybe some of you have masks in your collections that passed through her hands? I would love to hear about such things.
Here is the mask that the Texas collectors purchased from [Clotilde] Schöndube. It once had a Schöndube label, but that has been lost.
This is a very rare mask, one that I have never previously seen. I first wondered about the purpose of the sawn slits across the forehead and above and below the mouth. My guess is that some sort of fiber, such as bundles of sisal, might have been tucked into the grooves to provide eyebrows and a mustache.

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New Arrivals From The Sierra de Juárez, Oaxaca

Last week I resurrected some material from earlier posts in anticipation of some new arrivals that I am highlighting this week. Unfortunately the newcomers were delayed. Necessity being the mother of invention, this situation led me to an unusual strategy—I allowed you to encounter these masks from the same limited images that triggered my purchase of this group. Then when the masks did arrive, I added better photos to this post.

[February 12, 2020- Sure enough, the box containing six masks from Oaxaca arrived two days later, so I have added those photos. However, the box with the Tusked Negrito was further delayed by a Winter storm, arrived today (Friday, February 14).

I’m sure that my experience is familiar to some of you, that one arranges a purchase and then encounters the vicissitudes of delivery!

Here are the initial photos. The first reveals a typical Tusked Negrito mask from the Sierra de Juárez, with leather tusks. It closely resembles the pair in last week’s post, except that it appears to be more worn. It had been part of a mid-20th century collection in Oaxaca that was assembled by Rex and Lolly Marcum (which I had misspelled as Markham) of San Gabriel Etla, Oaxaca.

It looks worn and battered, doesn’t it. But these are rare masks, and it does seem to be complete and intact.

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A Review of Tusked Negrito Masks

In my posts of August 13 and 20, 2018, I featured Tusked Negrito masks from the Sierra Juárez of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Currently I am anticipating the arrival of several more masks from this tradition, and I hope to share these with you in next week’s post. So, in the absence of any new material at present, I am going to recycle what I wrote in August 2018 as an introduction to the new arrivals that we will examine next week.

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 and Mixe 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 that mask. The wooden or leather tusks are missing, but the recesses that had held them are evidence of their earlier presence.

Tusked Negrito masks tend to have snouted mouths. The tusks can be made from leather or wood, in the absence of suitable animal tusks.

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