An Old Rio Mayo Mask that Was Danced By A Grandfather, His Son, and His Grandson

I bought today’s mask from Tom Kolaz in March, 2017 . He found it interesting because the Mayo family in Pozo Dulce Sonora who sold it indicated that it had been used by three generations of Pascola dancers. The seller, who was the grandson of the original owner, was 70 years old! The mask had obvious age  to support this history, and I suspect that it could easily date to circa 1940 or even earlier. The grandson reported that his grandfather was the carver, but that individual’s name was not recorded. Nor did Tom find the style indicative of a known carver. Therefor I bought it as a terrific, old, but anonymous mask and hung it in a place of honor on the wall, with the expectation that the name of the carver was probably forever lost. As you will see, one aspect of this mask that serves to obfuscate it’s identity is the style of the hair, which is extremely long and silky, of horsetail, copying contemporary Sinaloa Mayo style.

When I looked again at this mask recently, I kept thinking that it had familiar features. Having just studied a number of Rio Mayo Pascola masks for this blog, I am seeing this mask with fresh eyes. At the end of the post I will tell you whose hand I am reminded of, but meanwhile you can play this game for yourself. Here is this week’s mystery mask, and to the right are links to my recent posts about identified Rio Mayo carvers (September, October, and November 2018).

At first glance, the most obvious feature of this mask is the extreme length of the hair, a characteristic found in contemporary Pascola masks made in the Rio Fuerte Mayo villages of Sinaloa. Given its age, this mask has probably been re-haired more than once, and this Sinaloa style hair has been showing up on Yaqui and Rio Mayo masks in recent years.

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An Anonymous Rio Mayo Pascola Mask With a Relief Carved Cross

Masks often arrive in the hands of a collector without the name of the carver. Through comparison with other masks in Museums and private collections, it is often possible to attribute an anonymous mask to a particular known carver’s style. Sometimes this attribution is easy, because the mask is so characteristic of a particular hand. However, there are inevitably other masks that defy such identification. I will be featuring such unidentified masks in a series of posts, beginning with this one.

I purchased this mask from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in October, 1988. It had recently been discovered by Roberto Ruiz in Navojoa, Sonora, a Mayo market town near other Rio Mayo villages. The most distinctive feature of this mask is the forehead cross, in this case a Christian Cross that has been carved in relief. You may recall that we have examined a few masks with painted Christian crosses and several more with inscribed (or gouged) Christian crosses, but this is the only example known to me of a Rio Mayo mask with a Christian cross that was carved in relief, and the majority of Rio Mayo masks have gouged Maltese crosses. The black paint of the face appears to be old and worn, while the areas painted white and red may have been redesigned and/or repainted. In other words, this mask may have had a different appearance when it was new. It is certainly handsome now.

There are what are called “triangular” eyes. The nose also has a triangular profile, from the side and from the front.

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Manuel Yocupicio Zamora

In a series of recent posts I have reviewed the Pascola masks of some of the carvers identified by James Griffith during field work in the Rio Mayo area of Sonora in 1965. There are a number of additional Rio Mayo carvers that were discussed in Griffith’s Masters Thesis of 1967, including Manuel Yocupicio Zamora, Tránsito Duarte, Manuel Bacasewa, Felipe Buitimea, Rosario Jilomeno, Brígido Moroyoki, Escolástico Piña, Domingo Vaípuri, Álvaro Villaneuva, Teodoro Wikosa, Luciano Angwamea, Lupe Montañez, Pedro Osimea, Ancencio Valenzuela. Santos Valenzuela, Andres Wokovatchi, and Guillermo Yocupicio. I invite you to look at the mask photos and supporting information that Griffith provided, which you can survey once again using the link that follows. I particularly call your attention to a mask by Andres Wokovatchi (M3 on p. 48a), and another by Acencio Valenzuela (M1, p. 49a), which are classic examples of the Pascola masks that were made on the Rio Mayo in the 1920s. These are rare and wonderful. Here is the link.

Today, in a final post related to the carvers featured in Griffith’s Masters Thesis, I will draw your attention to a photograph in the Masters Thesis of a mask that was carved by Manuel Yocupicio Zamora (M26, p. 48d, Arizona State Museum #2005-86-3). You can find this photo in the link just provided or in the one that follows.

Griffith wrote of this mask that “the face is scooped out, rather than flat or convex” (page between pp. 47 and 48). This was apparently the only mask in the sample that demonstrated such scooping. I was interested to learn more about this mask, because I had an anonymous Rio Mayo mask in my collection that could also be described as “scooped out.” Could I use this attribute to identify Manuel as the probable carver of my anonymous mask? To make a long story short, the answer is “No.” My mask was scooped in a dramatically different fashion than the one by Manuel that was collected by James Griffith.

I have examined the M26 mask at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, and the “scooped” carving does indeed set it off from most of the Rio Mayo masks that we have seen. Here is a drawing of Manuel’s mask from the side view, to better demonstrate Griffith’s use of  “scooped out”.

One might call this a sunken face, because it is creased at eye level so that, when viewed from the front, the plain of the lower part slopes away from the viewer as it rises to the eyes, and then the space over the eyes juts forward. This is an unusual way to depict the human face. The bent line to the left of the face is meant to characterize the relationship between the  two planes of the face. With this additional view in mind, you might like to flip back to the frontal photograph on the Internet link, and look again at M26 from this new perspective. While you are there, notice that the second mask from the left, in the line of photos above M26, is M1 (Arizona State Museum #2005-86-1), the 1920s Rio Mayo mask by Acencio Valenzuela, and that this mask does have a similarly folded face. Manuel has apparently made his mask in an older style.

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Benito Moroyoki

Benito Moroyoki was another of the Rio Mayo carvers who were included in James Griffith’s Masters Thesis of 1967 (M29, page 48). Unfortunately, Griffith included no information about this artist, beyond a photo of one mask that he later donated to the Arizona State Museum. Here is a link to a photo of that mask, 2005-89-29 (the Arizona State Museum number for M29). Due to a flawed algorithm, the link will falsely label other masks as Benito’s that were really carved by other artists.–6G-7R5gKOkafADw&q=benito+moroyoki+pascola+mask+at+arizona+state+museum&oq=benito+moroyoki+pascola+mask+at+arizona+state+museum&gs_l=img.12…97279.101044..103274…0.0..……1….1..gws-wiz-img.RQ5gciclhcE#imgrc=qPdCFXSLi3QUHM:

Benito Moroyoki’s masks are attractive, well carved, and relatively rare, so I have long admired them, but I never have had the opportunity to buy one for my collection. When I attended the museum of Leonardo Valdez in Etchojoa, Sonora with a group from the Arizona State Museum in 2006, Leonardo stated that although these masks were said to have been carved by Benito Moroyoki of Embarcadero Sonora, they were actually carved by Candelario Verdugo; for some unknown reason Candelario wished to create a second style of masks. At present both Candelario and Leonardo are deceased, so this assertion of Leonardo’s is not so easy to verify or deny. In any event, the masks said to have been carved by Benito do not closely resemble those of Candelario, and I will present them to you under Benito’s name. I count myself fortunate to have been permitted in 2011 to photograph an exciting group of masks that were said to be by Benito, when they were in the collection of Jerry Collings. Here is the first of this group, said to have been carved c. 1950.

This very old example has surely been repainted, and probably more than once. Nevertheless, we can assume that all of the carved elements are probably original. For example, the shape of the eyes, nose, and mouth, and the overall shape of the mask, will be seen to be design details that mark the style of Benito Moroyoki in all of today’s masks. This is the only one of the five masks that does not have an extended tongue (the mask in the Internet link also has an extended tongue). All five have elaborate inscribed decorative elements, of which three include inscribed flowers, and all five have inscribed crosses in the Maltese or Patée style

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Alcario Camea

When James Griffith was collecting Pascola masks that had been created by Rio Mayo carvers, back in 1965, he found it particularly easy to build a representative collection of masks by one of the local carvers, Alcario Camea, but he had marked difficulty when he attempted to buy danced masks by Silvestre Lopez. As I noted in last week’s post, masks carved by Sylvestre were perceived as superior to most of the others in terms of desirable design features. In contrast, Alcario’s masks were carefully carved, and perhaps brilliant in their eccentricity, but these idiosyncratic design features apparently went in and out of fashion, over time. One might imagine that these shifts in taste reflect some degree of secularization of the Pascola’s role, but I don’t believe that there is much of a published literature in this area. However, Tom Kolaz has been particularly interested in tracking these changing Pascola mask fashions on the Rio Mayo, and I look forward to a time when he will make his observations more widely available.

In April 1995, I briefly owned an excellent mask by Alcario, with typical features. I immediately traded it for another mask that I coveted. I was later able to photograph this mask  in 2011, after it had entered the collection of Jerry Collings. By now this mask has probably moved on to the collection of Gallery West, in Tucson Arizona. I have no photos of other masks by Alcario to offer you, apart from those in Griffith’s Masters Thesis of 1967, which you can access through the link that follows. Here is a photo of the mask that I briefly owned in 1995, to get us started. I had purchased that mask from Mark Bahti, of Tucson Arizona, who reported that his father, Tom Bahti had collected the mask several decades earlier. In other words, it probably dates to the same period as Jim Griffith’s research.

In the frontal view one sees a number of features that appear on almost every one of Alcario’s masks. These include:

1. the typical cross (which Griffith dubbed the “Alcario cross);

2. almond shaped eyes that are slanted downward at their outer corners;

3. oversized crescent shaped wedges under the eyes (almost as if a second mustache);

4. a broad drooping mustache between the bottom of the nose and the upper lip;

5. open teeth;

6. a ring of hair bundles around the face;

7. a slab-like nose with “ski-jump” contour and a blunt end.

8. and the use of boldly contrasting colors, noted Griffith.

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Sylvestre Lopez

In his Master’s Thesis of 1967, James Griffith told of his difficulty collecting masks by a very popular Rio Mayo carver, Sylvestre Lopez. Dancers were reluctant to sell masks that had been carved by Sylvestre, even if they owned other masks as well, because Sylvestre’s masks were invariably their favorites. In desperation, Griffith ordered two new masks from the carver, but it seemed that Sylvestre was too busy to fill this order in the period when the writer was in the area. In one instance Griffith was able to buy a danced mask by Sylvestre, but this was because the dancer had died and Griffith bought it from the widow; he was sold two others that had imperfections! He commented on the reasons Silvestre was so busy. Most importantly, Sylvestre was “also a Curandero, or healing expert, and often practices up in the Yaqui country at Vicam.” Silvestre had even obtained a Yaqui Pascola mask in Vicam. His curing services there were apparently in great demand. He performed in Rio Mayo fiestas as a Deer Singer, and in addition to supplying masks for the Pascola dancers, “he also makes rasps for the Deer Singers, and has made at least one head for the Deer Dancer” (pp. 101-102).

I have no mask in my collection by Sylvestre, but I can show two masks that I had photographed in 2011, when they were in the collection of Jerry Collings. Both had been attributed to Sylvestre at the time of original collection. I will start with this one, which was collected from Librido Leyva of El Zapote, Sonora at an unknown date. It was thought to have been carved in Borabampo, Sonora circa 1950.

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Three Rio Mayo Masks By The Floral Borders Carver

One by one, I have been introducing you to a group of Rio Mayo carvers whose masks I first encountered in 1988 or thereabouts. As has been my common experience, the masks of this carver came to me as the works of an anonymous artist. Over the passage of 30 years, I have usually been able to put a name to most of my mystery masks, but here is a trio whose maker has long eluded me. Recently my friend Tom Kolaz told me that he believes he has figured out this mystery, and I will leave it to him to tell us more when he eventually publishes on his Mayo research. For now I will name this artist by one of his border designs—the Floral Borders Carver. Apart from this feature his masks are absolutely generic, with typical Rio Mayo features.

I bought my first mask by this carver from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1988. They had obtained it from Roberto Ruiz, a man who often brought up masks from Sonora for various Indian arts dealers and collectors in Arizona and New Mexico. Arriving as usual with little provenance, this mask seemed very primitive to my eyes at that time, although now it seems so typical of the Rio Mayo area. This one does not have the intertwined floral border, but the next two masks share that feature.

In fact, this first mask has a very simple rim design, and there are red splotches of paint on the cheeks instead of more formal wedge designs.

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Brígido Valenzuela

Today we will examine the masks of another interesting Mayo master carver, Brígido Valenzuela of Guayparín, Sonora. In Jim Griffith’s Masters Thesis of 1967 he showed a photograph taken in 1965 of a Pascola mask by Brígado Valenzuela (809-34, figure 15); “This was his first attempt at mask making,” said Griffith, but he didn’t indicate its age. Here is a link to a photo of that mask on the Arizona State Museum Website.

In June, 1988 I purchased an anonymous Pascola Mask from Robin and Barbara Cleaver. When I compared it to another in a friend’s collection, I learned the name of the carver—Brígido Valenzuela. I liked this mask a lot, but I gave it up in a trade for another important mask. Here is an old (and harshly lit) flash photo of that mask.

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Marcelo Alamea

Last week we looked at masks that were probably carved by Plácido Alamea, rather than by his son Marcelo Alamea. This week I will show masks that were identified at the time of collection as the work of his son. It is possible that some of these were carved by Plácido. I bought the first of today’s masks on EBay™ in 2010 as an anonymous mask.  Comparing it with masks by Plácido and Marcelo in other collections, it seemed much more likely to be by the latter. My general impression is that the noses on Marcelo’s masks imitate those of his father, but they are often less delicately carved.

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Plácido Alamea

In his Masters Thesis of 1967 on Rio Mayo masks and carvers, James Griffith wrote about Plácido and Marcelo Alamea (pp. 105-107). Marcelo was Plácido’s son and both are deceased. In the Spring of 1965, when Griffith was working in the Rio Mayo region, Plácido was about 60 years old, and living in Jitombrumui, Sonora. He had danced as a Pascola, foot pain led him to retire, but he continued to play the violin at fiestas. “He also makes violins, harps, and masks, and has some reputation as a curandero,” wrote Griffith. Marcelo , who was living in Loma del Refugio, Sonora, was also a mask carver and a festival violinist. Griffith felt that father and son carved similar masks, as if there might be an Alamea family style. He described their masks as having “complex borders” and observed that ” six of the masks have horizontally flat faces with vertically convex cheeks.” When present those cheeks do provide one marker for masks carved by the Alameas, although some of their masks lack this feature.

Mexican Masks, by Donald Cordry, was published in 1980. In that book we find a photo of “Don Plácido” that was taken by Cordry in Antanguisa, Sonora in 1938 (plate 140, page 101); Placído was carving a mask and a completed mask was nearby. According to Leonardo Valdez, who had assembled a Museo (museum) collection of Mayo dance material in Etchojoa, Sonora, this Don Plácido was Plácido Alamea. Leonardo had one of Plácido’s harps on display in the Museo. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate Antanguisa. Griffith shows Jitombrumui on a map that indicates it lay 10 Km. to the west of Navojoa (and 10 km. west of Loma del Refugio, Marcelo’s village).

I visited Jim Griffith at his home near Tucson in 1990, and he kindly allowed me to photograph the masks he had collected during his research among the Mayo Indians of Sonora. At the time I wanted these photos as visual records of carver’s styles (a reference library), and I never sought his permission to publish those images. Since then Jim has donated those masks to the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, Arizona. At about the same time I obtained the book written by James Griffith and Felipe S. Molina, Old Men of the Fiesta:An Introduction to the Pascola Arts (1980), and I began visiting the Arizona State Museum’s Yaqui and Mayo collections. Through these experiences I discovered the masks of Plácido and Marcelo Alamea. Today I will focus on Plácido.

Here is one of the masks carved by Plácido Alamea that was collected by James Griffith during his research in 1965. What a beauty!

From the time that I first discovered Plácido’s classic mask style, I wanted one or more for my collection.  Ultimately one doesn’t get to collect what they want, but what they encounter. I wasn’t able to buy a mask by Plácido until 10 years later, when Tom Kolaz offered to sell me one. As you will later see, this is a very unusual and interesting mask. Then, in around 2005 I obtained a more classic example, which I will show you first. I bought this mask from the John C. Hill Indian Arts Gallery in Scottsdale Arizona, with no provenance. While this mask exemplifies Plácido’s style, I am uncertain whether it was carved by Plácido or Marcelo.

On first glance, you may have noticed that this mask exhibits many generic Rio Mayo Pascola design elements, such as the chevron shaped wedges that flank the nose, a forehead cross composed of four triangles with their points together, a mouth like those on masks by Pancho Parra and Bonifacio Balmea, and hair bundles that frame the face in a circle. These are all typically found on Alamea masks. An unusual detail is the chin cross, which matches the one on the forehead, and appears to be original to the mask. The rims of the eyes were carved in relief, another common feature of masks by the Alameas.

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