Identifying Pascola Masks—Old or Contemporary?
By guest contributor Tom Kolaz
As you may have gathered, Dr. Stevens and I have had many dialogues about masks, carvers, and Indian culture over the past 25 years, in person and via email, and these have been enlightening and enjoyable for both of us. I have read with interest his blog about Mexican Dance Masks over the last three years. His posts during this past year on Pascola masks have been my favorites, for many reasons. Dr. Stevens is methodical in his identification process and he brings years of experience to the task of identifying and speaking about Yaqui and Mayo Pascola masks, after viewing and handing hundreds of them in public and private collections, including my own.
Dr. Steven’s blog provides a wealth of information that encompasses years of thought, travel, observations and scholarly research. He has a pleasant way of presenting his readers with almost “matter of fact” information that has taken decades to be able to discern.
I met Dr. Stevens while working as a curator at the Arizona State Museum. It was a week or so before Easter and I learned from my colleagues that Dr. Stevens was “right on time” for his annual visit to the ASM collections division to view the Pascola masks yet again! My kind of guy.
My interest in Pascola masks focuses primarily on contemporary masks and carvers (the last 30 years or so). I particularly like masks made by carvers I have met, repeatedly interviewed, and photographed during the process of the carving. I enjoy observing a mask in the making and then seeing it worn at ceremonies. It intrigues me seeing how a mask changes in appearance over the course of further use. Masks are initially made by a carver, and are then very often made over or remade by the dancers who use them, so that these masks reflect the dancers’ design preferences and paint colors rather than those of the carver. Lastly, I am interested in the relationships that Pascolas have with their masks, do they have one or more masks that they use on a regular basis, do they loan their masks out to other Pascolas, and how often do they clean and touch up their masks? Such topics will be the subject of this post. I will tell about a single Yaqui mask (like those you have read about in the past year on this blog) and then a single Mayo Pascola mask.
An Old/New Yaqui Pascola mask.
This mask is an old (1950s) Yaqui Pascola mask that was brought to a Yaqui carver to be refurbished. The owner, a Pascola dancer who had used the mask for decades, sought help because the hair was falling out, the paint had faded, the face was dinged up, and it was showing it’s age. The carver, a friend of mine who was certainly not the original maker, told the Pascola that he would be happy to refurbish the mask and to come back in a few days. The Pascola dancer returned to pick up his mask; while visiting he noticed some masks that this carver had recently made. One in particular caught his eye and he told the carver he would like to buy the mask but he didn’t have money to purchase it. The carver, knowing that I was researching masks of various ages and that I would probably buy the old mask (now refurbished), told the Pascola he would trade him the mask he wanted for his old mask. The Pascola was thrilled to make the trade and get such a fine new mask.