Masks by Saturnino Valenzuela From Another Private Collection

In the last two posts we looked at masks by Saturnino Valenzuela that had been in the personal collection of Barney Burns and Mahina Drees. They had kept many danced examples, even as they bought and sold many of his undanced masks to Indian Arts Dealers and collectors. Today I will show you some additional masks from another private collection that were also carved by Saturnino. Several of these seem extraordinary to me. I photographed these when they were in the collection of Jerry Collings.

The first is a copy by Saturnino of a circa 1900 Yaqui mask that he had apparently seen in a photograph. It was collected by Roberto Ruiz in 1982, after it had been danced for two years.

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Human Faced Masks by Saturnino Valenzuela From the Collection of Barney Burns and Mahina Drees

Barney Burns and Mahina Drees kept many danced examples of masks carved by Saturnino Valenzuela for their own collection, even as they bought and sold many of his undanced masks to Indian Arts Dealers and collectors. Today we will examine nine of those “keepers” that have human faces, along with one at the end that depicts the devil. This is just a sampling.

The first is one of my favorites from this collection, an old and worn human faced mask. It was collected in 1986.

Stars flank the forehead cross.

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Made For Sale Masks By Saturnino Valenzuela

This week I will focus on made for sale masks by Saturnino Valenzuela. He made masks for various markets—dancers, collectors, and tourists. Today’s masks were brought up from Sinaloa to Indian Arts Dealers in Southern Arizona by Barney Burns and Mahina Drees, as they were intended to be sold to tourists and collectors. I bought them from those dealers, one by one, because I wanted to collect the full breadth of Saturnino’s work, including traditional and more fanciful designs; you will see both. Saturnino died several years ago, and I display these in his memory.

The first two are traditional in design, although, like some you saw last week, they represent “Apaches,” or North American Plains Indians. I bought this one in July, 2000.

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Sinaloa Mayo Pascola Masks

The Mayo Indians live in two adjacent Mexican states, Sonora and Sinaloa. Those in Sonora live in towns along the Rio Mayo, while those in Sinaloa live along the Rio Fuerte. There is apparently just enough distance between these two areas to have allowed differences to develop between their traditions. However we know so little about these differences. One obvious detail is that historically the Mayo Pascolas in Sonora have only rarely used animal faced Pascola masks, while those in Sinaloa have embraced Goat faced masks since the middle of the 20th century and perhaps for much longer. Therefore,  as we turn our attention to Mayo Pascola masks from the Rio Fuerte towns we will see a mixture of Human faced and Goat faced masks. We will also see again a profusion of made for sale masks that don’t adhere to such traditions.

Much of what we do know about Sinaloa Mayo mask traditions has resulted from the activities of traders such as Barney Burns and Mahina Drees. I introduced them in my post of August 22, 2016. Here is a link to that post.

As you may recall, Barney and Mahina encouraged Indians in a number of Northern Mexican states to produce their traditional arts and crafts for a North American audience, thus providing these subsistence farmers access to cash and modern materials that requires cash to acquire. Then they sold these crafts to Indian Arts dealers in the United States. Along the way, they also collected objects that they found particularly interesting, such as danced masks. One of the Sinaloa carvers, Saturnino Valenzuela, stands out as a prolific and talented artist, so I will begin with his masks. Today we will examine four of those that I purchased from Tom Kolaz in 1998. Three of the four had been danced. These masks served as my introduction to this carver.

The first of these has a very long beard.

Otherwise this example is very representative of Saturnino’s style. Almost all of his masks have:

1. this rim design of small gouged triangles painted in alternating colors,

2. a forehead cross that has been carved in relief, and

3. additional decorative elements that are carved in relief, such as flowers, stems of flowers, and even flower pots. This mask has flowers with stems on the cheeks.

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A Few More Highland Rio Mayo Pascola Masks

Today I will present three more masks that were carved by Luciano Valenzuela. These had been collected by Barney Burns and Mahina Drees, and Mahina permitted me to photograph their collection in 2016. I show you these masks because they are carved so much like those in last weeks post, but then extensive wear and alterations by dancers or others have caused two of them to look quite different, with embellishments that the carver had in effect omitted, from a cultural perspective.

This first mask was collected in Sonora at an unknown date.

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Some Highland Rio Mayo Pascola Masks

For several months we have examined Mayo masks from lowland villages along the Rio Mayo, in Sonora. Then I took a break from Mayo masks to discuss some recent acquisitions or discoveries. Now we will spend two weeks with masks from a village that is also on the Rio Mayo, but much further to the Northeast in a mountainous region.  The masks in this week’s post were made in Vado Cuate, a small town North of the City of Alamos. I will start with four masks from Vado Cuate that I obtained from Tom Kolaz in 2005. The carver, Luciano Valenzuela, is a Mayo Indian, his wife is Guarijío (or Warijío), and the masks are used by both Mayo and Guarijího Pascola dancers. The latter Indians live over the border from Sonora, in Chihuahua.

These masks are carefully carved, they are carefully fitted with hair bundles that are held by pegs, and they are painted with bright colors in an informal manner. They don’t appear to be painted for artistic excellence, but to achieve a functional effect—to be suitable for a Pascola to wear during a fiesta. All four of these masks were danced during a fiesta in December 2004, and then they were purchased by a collector. Here is the first.

Some of these masks lack a rim design, nor do they have any other decoration, such as painted wedges on the cheeks. This one simply has a Maltese cross painted on the forehead.

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A Few More Rio Mayo Pascola Masks

Today, sweeping up some of the last of my unposted masks from the coastal Mayo towns, I am starting with two attractive Pascola masks by Estaban González Leva, which I bought in 1995 from INAH, a government museum shop in Mexico City. These are modern and sophisticated in style, and they lack forehead crosses. Due to the long hair, I assumed that these were Mayo masks,  even though a tiny tag on the Pig declared that it was Yaqui. I know nothing more about this carver, so I can’ t even say whether they are definitely Yaqui or Mayo. I would think that these were carved for sale to dancers or collectors.

Then I am adding a trio of masks by Juan Nieblas that I bought from Tom Kolaz in 2007. At that time, Juan lived in Santa Bárbara, a tiny Rio Mayo village in the Municipio of Alamos, Sonora. In contrast to the first two, these masks are more traditional in design, but brightly painted. Tom purchased these three masks from the manager of a Pascola group, during a fiesta; they were to be danced, but Tom bought them before this could occur.

The first of the masks by Estaban González Leva appears to have a clown’s face (or the face of an evil character in a Batman™ movie).

Note the long brow hair and the extremely long beard, in the tradition of Sinaloa Mayo masks and characteristic of recent Rio Mayo masks.

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An Unusual EBay Find

Recently a remarkable female mask turned up on EBay™. It depicts a beautiful Caucasian female face, which has been carved with extreme delicacy. One would not doubt for a moment that it was carved by a santero, an artisan whose primary occupation was the carving of wooden statues of Christian saints. The seller, who was also offering several masks that were clearly in the style of Carlos Reyes Acoltzin, a santero from Tlaxcala, Mexico, attributed this mask to that artist. However, although this is a superbly crafted mask, it is not typical of Acoltzin’s style, nor is it particularly similar to other Carnival masks from Tlaxcala. Those masks often lack carved ears, and when ears are present they not so elaborate. If it were several inches taller, I would think that this mask was worn by a Borracha in the Toritos dance in the area of Sileo, Guanajuato. (see my post of December 4, 2017).

After staring long and hard, I am doubtful that this is a Carnaval (Carnival) mask from Tlaxcala. It is probably a Female Huehue or Carnival mask from the Sierra de Puebla, where carved ears are the rule, rather than the exception. In that case it could have come from either the Mexican State of Puebla or from that of Veracruz. There is the possibility that it is a Maringuilla mask from the state of Michoacán, but they don’t usually have ears either. Faced with such ambiguity, I usually look for carving details like these to point me in one direction or another.

What is it that makes this mask so different from the familiar styes of Tlaxcala, Michoacán, and the Sierra de Puebla? The most obvious difference is the expression of this face, so serious or even haunting! If I only look at this expression, then I think that this is a mask of an Angel, who has come to tell the Virgin Mary serious predictions at the moment of the Anunciation. The EBay seller, equally impressed by this expression, nicknamed the mask—”Elvis Lives.” Both of these hypotheses are punctured by the jarring discrepancy of the carved flowers in the hair, another unusual feature. In passing, note the asymmetry of this mask.

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Another Recent Mayo Acquisition

This older Mayo mask was collected by Edmond Faubert sometime in the 1970s from an undocumented location. It is traditionally carved but eccentrically painted. I have seen one other Mayo mask with such paint and that one was also found by Faubert, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Edmond sold this mask to a Santa Fe Indian Arts dealer in the late 70s, and it eventually came into the hands of Tom Kolaz. Recently he sold it to me.

The patina on this turquoise paint is terrific

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