Catrin Masks from the Urmston Collection

Today it is my pleasure to continue discussion about a collection of masks that were gathered by James and Jane Urmston in the 1970s, when they were living in Mexico. The Urmstons have been selling their collection, mask by mask, and today I will include masks that are for sale along with others that have already been sold. Because the collection is actively for sale, I can not guarantee that a particular mask will remain unsold by the time it appears on this site, and you are advised to act promptly to pursue any mask that does interest you. Note again that I have no commercial interest in these sales; I am simply relishing the opportunity to share this collection with interested collectors, whether to purchase or simply to learn from. You may contact the Urmstons at

I will begin with two Catrin masks from Tlaxcala that appear during Carnaval (Mardi Gras). They were still for sale before I began this series of Urmston posts and appear to be very good masks.

The first mask was brought in to a Santero (carver of saints) for repainting, some of the old paint was scraped away, but then the mask was never repainted. I suspect that the unpainted spots along the top edge had held islands of carved plaster to simulate hair, just as we still find on several masks that follow. This mask is very finely carved and  has glass eyes. The wood has split under the right side of the mouth, but this is very typical of these older (1930s?) masks. This mask is a real “sleeper,” much better than you might think at first glance.


The age of this mask is more apparent from the back.



The second mask has glass eyes and it is delicately carved and painted.


The back of this mask is more roughly carved than the first, but obviously dark with age.


The rest of the masks in this post have been sold and possibly resold.

The first from this group of already sold masks is obviously old and wonderful. Note the carved dimples and glass eyes with imported German doll’s eye movements that permit the lids to be open or closed. Also note the wonderful shape of the nose. Such a mask is likely to date to the 1930s.


These masks were frequently painted blue on the back. There one can see the raised eyelids and the mechanism that allows the dancer to lower the eyelids by pulling the string that extends through the chin of the mask. The string and the spring are replacements, but the age of the remaining elements of the eye movement is obvious.


The second of this group  is a classic mask of this type,which may well date to the 1940s or earlier, given the style of carving of the hair—it may look simple in design, but actually it is quite sophisticated and suggests the hand of a master (see Mexican Masks by Donald Cordry, page 26, plate 29 and page 104, plate 147). It has relief-carved eyes, in comparison to those with blown glass eyes that were imported from Germany. Note the applied eyelashes and how the paint is worn on the pupils. The beauty mark on the chin is a common feature of these masks. On the viewer’s right there is mild damage to the painted hair, exposing the gesso (plaster) under-layer.


The next mask, of a beautiful woman (but worn by a male dancer), is significantly newer than the last. It has glass eyes and applied lashes. As is common for female masks in Mexico, this mask has elaborate dangling earrings.


Here is another view.


And here she is again, but without the cloth. Notice how different she looks with different lighting. The gold teeth connote wealth and high social standing.


The next male mask is another with the older style applied plaster hair, again accompanied by glass eyes. This face has obvious wear.


The mask that follows wears fringe across his forehead, another common detail in recent performances. But this mask was collected in 1977 and may date to the 196os or 70s.


The last of these masks is not so different from the fourth mask in this post, except that this mask lacks gesso hair and is undamaged. We see that same broad nose and a similar painted mustache.


I hope that you have liked these finely carved Catrin masks from Tlaxcala. Next week I will continue to highlight masks from the Urmston collection.

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