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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A Southern Tepehuán Moreno Mask

Recently I was privileged to purchase a very rare mask, a Moreno mask used in Southern Tepehuán performances. The Southern Tepehuán Indians live in scattered communities in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Nayarit. This mask was purchased by Edmond Faubert in Nayarit, probably in the early 1980s, and he subsequently sold it to a Tucson Collector in 1984. As it happens, I had photographed it in that collection in the 1990s. It later passed through the hands of several other owners; most recently Tom Kolaz acquired it in a trade and sold it to me.

These Tepehuán Moreno masks are so rare that they have seldom appeared in reference books about Mexican Masks. In Máscaras Mexicanas: Simbolismos Velados, which was the catalogue for a mask exhibit held in Mexico City in 2015 (INAH, ed. Sofía Martínez del Campo Lanz,  page 238), there is a very similar mask, described as a “Moreno” from the Tepehuán del Sur (Southern Tepehuán) culture. It had been used in the Danza de los Morenos in San Francisco de Ocotán, Mezquital, Durango, and was believed to date from the 19th century. Broken, patched together, and worn, it is in the collection of the Comisíon Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indigenas in the Ciudad de México.

I have not learned much about La Danza de los Morenos. “Moreno” means a dark skinned person. Edmond Faubert told Tom Kolaz that he believed these Moreno masks were analagous to the Chapeon masks used by the Tarahumaras in the Matachines dance and that the Tepehuanes had learned this dance from their Tarahumara neighbors. In support of this, I have learned that the Tepehuanes do perform the Matachines dance in Durango. Here is the mask.

The mustache, held on with metal staples, is probably made with horse tail.

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Another Etsy Mask Find

Last week I showed you an old mask that I recently found on Etsy™. Actually I found two masks there, and today’s post will feature the second from the same dealer. This one is essentially a duplicate of an unusual female mask that I included last year in my post of May 21, 2018. They only differ in their paint or patina, but since they are so old and rare, it gives me great pleasure to look at them side by side.

Here is a link to the May 21, 2018 post:

And here, to refresh your memory, are the three masks featured in that post, all from the Danza de los Negros in towns within or near the Municipio of Chichiquila, Puebla. This dance. “Los Negros,” is a local variation of La Danza de los Santiagueros, itself an offshoot of the Moros y Cristianos Dance that was imported from Spain by the Conquistadors. As I have explained at length in my book—Masks and Puppets: Master Carvers of the Sierra de Puebla—the Santiagueros Dance is fascinating because it pretends to depict conflict between Christians and the Pilatos, the enemies of Christ, when it seems to covertly function as a prayer for the “true Christians (the Indians of the Americas) to defeat the Spanish conquerors, who are accused of being false Christians. Such a hidden script is usually hinted at by some inconsistency, and we will find such evidence in this Negros dance.

The first mask was worn by Santiago or a Santiaguero.

I am including the back views of all these masks to remind you that the backs are nearly identical to one another in design. This suggests that all four of today’s masks were carved by the same carver.

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A Mask From Etsy

Recently I purchased this old mask from the “HowOriginalStore” of Austin Texas, an Etsy™ vendor. An old tag on the mask simply stated that it was from the Mexican State of Puebla. To my eye it looked very similar to a mask in a special issue of the journal Masterkey—Mexican Masks From the Southwest Museum Collection (Volume 62, Numbers 2 & 3, Summer / Fall 1988, page 23, figure 31),  which was from Tuxpan in the Mexican state of Jalisco,  and appeared in La Danza del Chayacate. The mask illustrated has a male face with a painted mustache and carved ears. To my eye this mask was carved by the same hand as the one in the Masterkey issue, however it has a woman’s face.

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An Old Mayo Pascola Mask That I Forgot

During a series of posts about older Rio Mayo Pascola masks in my collection, I overlooked the one I will show you today. I bought this mask from Tom Kolaz in 2014. It had been recently collected from its elderly dancer , Don Moises of Tetanchopo, Sonora, who reported that he had been given the mask in the 1950s, and it was already 10 or 20 years old when he received it. So it might date to the 1930s or 1940s. Here it is.

Over the years the relief carved lips of this mask have been painted black, which causes them to seem less impressive than they actually are.

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Others From the Current Generation of Rio Mayo Carvers

In recent posts we have examined the work of contemprary Rio Mayo carvers.  I think of these artists as members of a school, a group of individuals, like the French Impressionists, each with his own style, but working within the same general framework, and perhaps influencing one another. What the Mayo artists appear to share is a new-found freedom to experiment, whereas earlier carvers may have felt more bound by tradition and less free to differentiate their individual craftsmanship from the primary task of providing a necessary product, a dance instrument.

My friend Tom Kolaz has become very interested in this group of younger artists, and in recent decades he has been collecting examples of their work. I appreciate his willingness to pass some of their masks along to me. This week I will share four of these that I purchased from Tom, over the years.

I obtained the first of these during a visit to Tucson in December of 2011. The carver is Juan Alfonso Soto López, whose nickname is “Salo.” He is a highly regarded mask maker in his community. This mask was carved in 2000, and danced for ten years.

This mask has long hair in the Sinaloa style.

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Cuco II

Last week I had introduced you to Refugio Hipólito Ruiz Quintero, of La Bocana, Sonora, whose nickname is Cuco. Today we will examine two of his masks that I purchased in January, 2012, after they were danced for several years in Rio Mayo fiestas. Like three of last week’s masks, these are carved in a traditional design that reflects the work of an earlier generation of Rio Mayo carvers.

This mask was carved by Cuco in 2008. It was danced for 2½ years by Joaquin “Chano” Valenzuela Encinas from Chapote Chucari, Sonora, who was 27 years old when he sold the mask to an agent for Tom Kolaz. Joaquin’s father-in-law is Alfredo  Lopez, also a Pascola. Cuco stated that the design of the mask represents la bandara de Jesús, “Christ’s Flag,”

Again we see a Rio Mayo mask that has been fitted with the long hair and brows found in Mayo areas of Sinaloa.

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I began this series of posts about Mayo Pascola masks from Sonora by examining the work of carvers who had been studied by James Griffith, back in 1965. Gradually we have been shifting towards other carvers and more recent masks. In last week’s post about masks with relief carved snakes we clearly ventured into the world of contemporary Rio Mayo carvers, and they will be the subject of the next few posts. Today I will begin with the contemporary carver whose masks introduced me to this group, back in 2010. As has often been the case, I learned about this artist from my friend Tom Kolaz, who said, “His artistry blows me away.” We agreed that we should buy some masks by this talented young man in order to encourage him to develop as an artist, and over the year that followed I purchased four undanced masks.

As it turned out, Cuco was stimulated by our support. He had already been making masks that were modeled on those of the last generation of carvers, such as Bonifacio Balmea, and this is the style that you will see in this post. However he also began to experiment more bravely with a modern style that appealed to Pascolas who were his contemporaries. These new-style masks were an immediate hit, and over just a few years Cuco became quite popular with these younger dancers, so much so that none of his most exciting masks ever came my way. I tell this not out of unhappiness, but to alert you that the masks in my collection are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and his recent masks are among the very best in the Mayo area.

Initially I didn’t even have a name for this carver, later I learned that his nickname was “Cuco,” and eventually Tom told me that his formal name is Refugio Hipólito Ruiz Quintero and that he lives in a very small town near Etchojoa, Sonora. I will call him Cuco. You will see that the artistry of Cuco’s carving speaks for itself. Here is one of the masks from that first group of four.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the very long eyebrows and beards seen on Mayo Pascola masks in Sinaloa have gradually been adopted by the Rio Mayo carvers in recent years.

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Rio Mayo Masks With Snakes

In 2004 I purchased a Rio Mayo Pascola mask from Dinah Gaston that had snakes carved in relief on the face. Dinah had visited Leonardo Valdez in Etchojoa in June, 2000, and he had taken her to a fiesta. There she obtained this mask from the lead Pascola, Bartolo, who reported that he had danced with it for 15 years. According to Tom Kolaz, Bartolo Matus was not only the lead Pascola in Etchojoa at that time, but also he probably was the mask’s carver. Perhaps he was also the originator of this style’s use in the Rio Mayo villages, Tom speculated. He was so intrigued by this mask that he made further inquiries through contacts he had in that region, and ultimately he discovered additional masks there with relief carved snakes on their faces. I obtained one of these from Tom in 2006. In today’s post I will show you these two exciting masks.

Here is the one that was collected by Dinah Gaston in 2000. It was said to date to c. 1985.

The snake bodies create the illusion of exaggerated cheekbones.

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