Diablo Masks from Guerrero, part 1 September 29, 2014

In my recent discussion of the masks in Donald Cordry’s book, Mexican Masks, I noted that there is a strong tradition of mask making in the Mexican state of Guerrero and that this state had also been an important source of  decorative masks. I called your attention to some of Cordry’s photographs of traditional Guerrero carvers. In my discussion of the decorative masks, I shared some of Cordry’s thoughts about devil or Diablo masks. Unfortunately, most of Cordry’s Diablo masks from Guerrero fell into the decorative category, providing little exposure to the truly impressive traditional devil masks from this state. Today’s post will begin to correct this imbalance.

In Guerrero there are various isolated style areas. This variety is reflected in the Diablo masks from this state. I will present a cluster of similar masks in this post and other designs will follow, next week. Today’s post will display Diablo masks with horns that drop down from the forehead to frame the face. The first of these is a near duplicate of a mask in one of Cordry’s photos of carvers with their masks. In fact that was the reason that I bought this mask on EBay™. In Plate 145 (page 103), Cordy introduced us to Ruperto Abrahán, the son of Nalberto Abrahán, whom he had interviewed in 1972. Both carvers lived and worked in Tixtla, Guerrero and so I will refer to these Diablo masks as representative of the Tixtla style. The Tixtla style Diablo mask in Cordry’s photo is located just next to Ruperto’s right hand.

Here are photos of my similar mask from EBay that I bought in April of 2014. It was accompanied by an old tag: “6 Fantasy Devil Mask, ‘Dance of the Devils,’ Cualac, Guerrero. Approx. 60 years old. $1200.00.” Cualac is about 100 miles away from Tixtla. Apparently it had been purchased for a high price in the past, and now it came back on the market for a much lower price. I actually paid $270 for this mask, with shipping. I want to begin by saying that because this mask so closely resembles the one in the Cordry photo, it is likely to date from that time (circa 1972) and it was probably carved by Ruperto. Therefore it is no more 40 years old at present. However it was claimed to be 60 years old in the past, perhaps in the 1980s. As you will see, the back of this mask has not been falsely aged. I wish that I could say the same thing about the face of this mask, but I cannot. I regard the sort of paint loss that you will see on the front and side views as possibly due to deliberate mechanical abrasion, and unlikely abrasion at that. I believe that this mask was sold in the heyday of the decorative masks and that it was falsely presented at that time.

Nevertheless I find this mask interesting as an example of the Diablo masks that were made by an important family of carvers, and representative of a style of Diablo mask that was traditionally used in the region of Tixtla. In other words, I view this as a traditional mask that was later falsely aged. It would have looked magnificent with its original paint.


This mask is the largest of today’s group, at 10½ inches tall, 8 inches wide, and 5½ inches in depth.





Although I have started off with this mask to introduce the Tixtla style of Diablo masks from Guerrero, I have another reference point to establish that this is indeed how Diablo masks have traditionally been carved in Tixtla. In the Catálogo de Máscaras del estado de Guerrero de las collecciones del Museo Nacional de Antropologia, María Teresa Sepúlveda Herrera included three masks in this style, numbers 105, 106, and 107, all said to have been danced in Tixtla, Guerrero (pages 173-176).

The next mask is genuinely old, having been collected in Mexico by Elsa Rogo and her husband, the artist Stefan Hirsch, when they began living in Taxco, Mexico, in 1932. I obtained this mask from Spencer Throckmorton in 1996.Here is a photograph of Elsa that was taken in 1932.


Like her husband, Elsa was also an artist. In Taxco Elsa founded the Open Air School in order to teach art to Mexican children. Later she shared art work by those children in an exhibit in New York City and it is said that some of her students are shown in an old film that is available on the web.


The next link reveals movies taken by Elsa and her husband in Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, in 1932.


Here is the mask from Guerrero that was collected by Elsa Rogo in 1932, another Diablo with horns turned down and framing the face.


This mask is 7 inches tall, 7 inches wide, and 3½ inches in depth. There are many layers of paint on the face.


The horns are attached to the face of the mask with wooden pegs. You can see the ends of two of those pegs emerging though the back above the left eye and a third just below  a string repair above the right eye..



Having shown two extremes of this form, one that was undoubtedly made for sale and then falsely aged versus another that is old and heavily danced, I will show four more Diablo masks in this style.

I purchased the next mask on EBay in 2003, specifically because it had this form. It came with no information.


This mask is 9 inches tall, 8 inches wide, and  3½ inches in depth.



The next mask and the one that follows both came from the Cavin Morris Gallery in New York City. I got this one in 1995. It was said to be from Mochitlán, Guerrero, a town near Tixtla.


This mask is 7 inches tall, 6 ¼ inches wide, and  4½ inches in depth. It is old and worn. There are some missing elements in the mouth, probably a tongue and fangs. In the past this mask had a red face.



I bought the next mask in this group from the Cavin-Morris gallery (in Manhattan) in April of 2001. It seems strange now to recall a time just before New York City suffered the destruction of 9/11/2001. The mask itself had appeared in the Seite Vicios (seven vices aka seven deadly sins) dance in Ayutla, Guerrero, a town far to the south of Mochitlan and Tixtla and not far from the Pacific coast. It was said to be a diablo cabro (goat devil). I suppose that this term would apply to most of the Diablos in this post.


Although of median height at 8½ inches, with width of 8 inches, and depth of 3½ inches, this mask is very impressive on the face—powerful and sinister, a dark lord.




The last of these Diablos is distinctly different from the rest. This one is from Quelchultenango,Guerrero, and I bought it from Jaled Muyaes in 1998.


This mask is 7 inches tall, 6  inches wide, and  3½ inches in depth.




This concludes my review of Diablo masks from Guerrero that have the Tixtla form. Next week I will show some Diablo masks from Guerrero that have other forms.






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