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.

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Recent arrivals on the EBay Beach IV

A cluster of four Pascola masks showed up recently on EBay™, for sale by Gallery West of Tucson. Two Yaqui masks bear telltale design details of my favorite Yoeme carver, Manuel Centella Escalante. He lived and worked in Potam, Sonora, but frequently traveled to the Yaqui villages in the Tucson area to participate in fiestas. The condition of the Yaqui masks might not appeal to all collectors. The other two, charming Mayo Pascola masks from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, are certainly in far better condition.

Here is the first of the pair I am attributing to Manuel Centella Escalante. Someone had scraped the paint on the face, probably in preparation for repainting, but then a Yaqui picker, Rodrigo Rodriguez, who was also a well-known mask carver, had purchased it in 1984, before it could be repainted. It was said to be the work of Antonio Faroi, a carver who is unknown to me. Roberto had bought it for Barney T. Burns. Barney sold it to a Tucson collector, who showed me the mask in 2004. Despite the scraping, there were enough of the original painted designs left to indicate that Manuel Centella had surely been the maker. Many years after that moment of recognition, when the mask had passed through other hands, I was  able to purchase in on EBay, in May 2018. I estimate that this mask was actually carved in the 1960s or 70s, roughly 50 or 60 years ago. I should note that my ability to spot this maker’s work had been vastly sharpened by the kind teaching of my friend, Tom Kolaz of Tucson, who is another great fan of Manuel Centella’s work.

Typical Manuel Centella features are visible, including the white triangles over the eyes, the large and broad nose (with white painted designs on a vertical line down the center), the graceful artistic white triangles under the eyes, the small carved teeth, and the chin cross of four small triangles with inscribed outlines. There would have been a similar but larger cross on the forehead.

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Recent Arrivals on the EBay Beach III

Recently several good masks by the late Pedro Huerta Mora of Cuetzalan del Progresso, Puebla appeared on EBay™. One of those masks may still be available there. The one I purchased combined most of my favorite features by this man, whom I consider a great master carver. I have a number of his masks already, but I was glad to buy one more, and I realized that I had never included any of them in this blog, although I did feature Pedro and his masks in my book. Pedro was one of several men I discovered in Puebla and Veracruz whose primary occupation was the making of caskets; mask-making was something these mascareros did as a sideline. Along with caskets, Pedro also made elaborate wooden crosses that served as grave markers. His son has carried on this business (caskets and grave markers), but I don’t believe that he has ever made masks. Here is the mask that I purchased in May (2018) on EBay.

This mask might serve as more or less an encyclopedia regarding typical features favored by this carver. Although each of his masks is unique, you will have the opportunity to see other masks by Pedro that share one or another feature with this one, such as the unusual relief carved band across the bridge of the nose, the elaborate lip design, the scalloped beard, the eyes, nose, and mouth designs, and the presence of margin lines, edges, or shelves across or at the boundary of the cheeks. In this photo and the next, these margins look like horizontal shelves or cheek bones, although other masks have more subtle marginal lines.

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Recent arrivals on the EBay Beach II

Recently there have been a number of Juanegro style masks offered on EBay™, but most of them strike me as decorative or reproduction masks. I was pleasantly surprised to find one Juanegro mask that did seem traditional and authentic. It looks to be by the same hand as a number of Juanegros from Tantoyuca or Tepecintca, Veracruz in my collection that were originally collected there by Jaled Muyaes and Estela Ogazón, probably in the 1970s. Here is the recent arrival.

This mask of Juanegro, the African foreman who challenges the Caucasian Hacienda Owner for the hand of a female of the household, is only slightly different in design details from several other Juanegros masks in my collection.

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Recent arrivals on the EBay Beach

In the last month or so a number of interesting masks were offered for sale on EBay™, and I saw some that I could not resist. One of these was another Moro Chino mask from Guerrero. I had shown two of those in my post of May 14, 2018.

There I had referred you to an excellent series of photos of Moros Chinos masks in Changing Faces: Mexican Masks in Transition (1985, edited by Lori Jacobson and Donald E. Fritz). The new arrival from EBay is identical in design to one of those masks (plate 5 on page 23) and almost exactly the same size. They are in the style used in Mochitlán, Guerrero, and surely by the same hand.

Then, as I was sorting out other masks from the Moros y Cristianos dance, I discovered four more of this style that I had forgotten that I had. So this week I have five more Moro Chino style masks to show you, beginning with the one from EBay.

This mask, like many, is a little crooked. The eyebrows and mustache elements are not only rectangular in shape, but also they are additionally stylized, with vertical grooves (a feature favored in Mochitlán).

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Los Jardineros (Kings and Queens)

Today we will look at two pairs of masks from San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca—masks of Kings and Queens. These were danced in Los Jardineros, a local variant of the Moros y Cristianos dance drama. There is a dance photo taken by Ruth Lechuga in 1977, along with another pair of these masks, in Barbara Mauldin’s book—Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life (page 65). There is another dance photo on the cover of Danzas y Bailes Populares: Arte Mexicano, authored by Electra L. Mompradé and Tonatiúh Guttiérrez and published by Editorial Hermes (Barcelona, 1976). On p. 126 those authors explain that there is a Christian King and Queen, a Moorish King and Queen, and their respective courts. In Mexican Masks, Donald Cordry also described these Jardineros masks (pp. 120-123, Plates 169 and 170). He illustrates that stilt dancers in Santa María Roala, Oaxaca wear similar masks, but with straw hats rather than crowns (Plate 137, page 97). Cordry translated Jardineros as “gardeners,” but it is probably more accurate to recall the persistent importance of the Jardin (or Zocolo) as the elegant town square in Mexican cities such as Cuidad Oaxaca, where prominent citizens would promenade in the evening, to see and be seen. The Jardineros portray those who occupy royal gardens. In the present era, musicians play in the evening  for those in the Zocolo as couples still promenade.

Here is a Youtube™ video of a children’s performance of the Jardineros from San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca.

I obtained these Jardineros masks from the Gary Collison estate in 2008. Gary had gotten them from Bob Ibold. They were made from cloth that was pressed into shape over molds. Then the masks were coated with beeswax in order to make them more durable, and they were fitted with metal grommets for the secure attachment of cords or straps. The first pair were coated heavily with wax, front and back, while the second pair has no more than a light wax coating on the face, but the same heavy reinforcement of the back. I don’t have an explanation for this variation. Here is one of the heavily waxed masks, with a male face to portray a King.

The heavy wax coating gives the mask a smooth appearance.

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Six Moros or Related Masks from Four Mexican States

After digging through  my collection of masks, I am nearly finished with those from the Moros y Cristianos dance and related dances. In this post I bring together a variety of unusual but interesting masks from these dances, which did not fit so neatly with others from their respective states. Almost all of them are special gems in terms of artistry and rarity, but no two are alike.

The first, a gift from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1988, was reportedly a Moro mask from the Mexican State of Puebla. Moors with green faces are uncommon in Mexico. In my view, as you may recall from my posts about Xantolo masks from Hidalgo and Veracruz, masks with unrealistic colors such as yellow, blue and green, are frequently worn by dancers who depict the bodies or souls of the dead.

One could suppose that this mask might represent a Moor or Santiaguero that has been recycled for some other dance such as Xantolos or Carnaval (Mardi Gras).

I have long admired the jolly mouth on this mask.

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Three White Faced Masks from Puebla

Today we will look at three white faced masks from the Moros y Cristianos and related Santiagueros performances in Puebla. Evidently these represented Christians or Spaniards (Pilatos).

I purchased the first of these from Spencer Throckmorton, in Manhatten, in 1996. This dramatic mask had previously been in the collection of Raoul Kampfer, a well known Mexican mid-20th century antiquarian and collector. It was said to be a Moro, but I suppose that it was a Pilato (Spaniard) from the Santiagueros dance, and it could easily have been one of the leaders, such as Pilate himself or the Emperor Tiberius.

This mask seems more like a caricature than a portrait. Spencer had commissioned a metal stand, which remains.

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El Misterio De Los Negoes

Last week I  began with a Moro mask from the Mexican State of Puebla that had a black face, followed by other Moros y Cristianos masks that were not black, and apparently depicted Christian figures. All four had similar features. One of those was apparently worn by a Christian figure in a variant of the Danza de Moros y Cristianos, called “El Misterio de los Negros.” The black-faced mask was not explicitly identified with that dance, although it could easily have been used with the other one. In the course of my writing about these masks, I realized that I owned a group of three Black Moor masks from neighboring states that also appeared to have been used in El Misterio de los Negros. None of these are from Puebla, but from Veracruz, Guerrero, and the State of Mexico. I must confess that my information about the existence of this dance drama is limited. The first of today’s masks is specifically labeled on the back as being from this dance, and Jaled Muyaes told me of others, although he said nothing about this dance in his published writings about masks.

I bought this one in 2008 from the estate of my friend, Gary Collison. Although the tag said it was from Guerrero, this is the mask with writing on the back that identifies it as a mask from El Mysterio de los Negros, Veracruz. It is a handsome elegant mask.

The face has a very simple design.

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Four Puebla Moros

Today I will present four Moro masks from the State of Puebla that share similar features, as if all were by the same hand or from the same local tradition.

I don’t believe that I have ever shown you the first of these. I did show you the second in my post of September 15, 2014, along with the third mask, and I featured the fourth in my post of May 18, 2015. The point of today’s post is to put the four side by side. Unfortunately I still do not know the name of the carver(s).

I purchased the first from John Kania and Joe Ferrin of Santa Fe, in 1996. It was said to be from Chichiquila, Puebla. A nearly identical mask in the Museo National de la Máscara:Catálogo (p. 80) is said to be from San Pablito, Municipio Pahuatlán, Puebla.

As we have already seen in earlier posts, sometimes Moors are depicted with black faces—”Blackamoors.” The literal meaning of Blackamoor is “Black African,” but this word would appear to reflect the confusion experienced by Europeans from their early contacts with Africa and its peoples. In contrast, two weeks ago I showed characters from the “Negritos” dance who all had Caucasian faces. As I have repeatedly noted, a common reason for such confusing labels in Mexican dance dramas is that Mexican Indian dancers seldom portray themselves, instead they generally disguise themselves as others; from this place of anonymity and obfuscation the dancers feel free to address otherwise dangerous or forbidden social commentary.

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