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.

Here is the Queen.

Isn’t she charming?

This mask is 9¾ inches tall. 6 inches wide, and 2¾ inches deep.

I don’t know whether that this mask was ever danced. Certainly the paint on the face seems worn. Is this dark color a sign of use?

Next comes the mask of a rough-looking woman.

Wearing this inexpensive mask during Carnaval would provide such license to misbehave!

This mask is 9¼ inches tall, 7½ inches wide, and 3 inches deep.

This mask too has a face that has been worn. Is this what the back of a paper mask looks like after use?

I believe that I bought the next mask, depicting a Deer, on Ebay™, because I thought it was so unusual to find a paper Deer mask.

The horns are purely symbolic, and hardly menacing.

This mask is 13 inches tall, the antlers are 15 inches wide, and it is 2¾ inches deep.

I particularly like this mask because it was molded from a religious publication, and the print remains visible on the back. This is the only mask in this post that has a decent strap.

I have inverted the back photo to show a print of Saint Anthony of Padua, holding the Christ Child.

The newspaper is called Nuestra Communidad (Our Community).

Here is a Blue Diablo. This mask and the rest that follow were collected by my late friend, Gary Collison, in a market in the Mexican state of Puebla. His wife recalled how thrilled he was as he selected these from a much larger selection. I suspect that they were selling there for about $1 per mask.

Another license to misbehave!

This mask is 12½ inches tall. 8½ inches wide, and 3½ inches deep.

There is no staining from use.

Next we see a Calavera (skull) mask.

Such a mask might be worn during Todos Santos (All Saints Day or the Day of the Dead).

This mask is 9½ inches tall, 6 inches wide, and 3¼ inches deep.

There are string holes on the sides, but no string has even been attached.

Two masks of Viejos (old men) follow. Here is the first.

This fellow is quite jolly.

The mask is 8½ inches tall. 6¾ inches wide, and 3½ inches deep.

There are holes for string, but no strap- another brand new mask.

The second Viejo has a pink complexion.

His beard is flying.

This mask is 7½ inches tall, 6¼ inches wide, and 3½ inches deep.

The price was 13 pesos (about one dollar).

This is a mask of a Catrine (dandy). This mask has been very nicely painted.

Maybe he depicts a Moro?

This mask is 6½ inches tall, 6¾ inches wide, and 2½ inches deep.

The print on the back of this mask makes a reference to immigration!

On the chin is an advertisement for Mexican chocolate for cocoa (Taza, literally “cup”).

We will end with a mask of an attractive Mujer (woman).

She is wearing gold earrings.

This mask is 9¾ inches tall. 6 inches wide, and 2¾ inches deep.

This mask doesn’t even have holes for a string.

Next week will initiate a series of posts about masks from the Sierra de Juárez of Oaxaca.

Bryan Stevens



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