Bonifacio Balmea Sauzemea

This week I am introducing you more fully to another excellent and prolific Rio Mayo maskmaker, Bonifacio Balmea Sauzemea, of Guayparín, municipio of Etchajoa, Sonora, who is sometimes erroneously referred to as Bonifacio Valenzuela. I had inadvertently included one of Bonifacio’s masks from another collection in my post of September 10, 2018, thinking that it was a mask carved by Pancho Parra. Bonifacio’s masks often resemble those of Pancho Parra, so much so that one commonly finds masks in major collections that were made by one of these carvers but misidentified as the work of the other. I will start with a trio of masks by this artist that I purchased from Tom Kolaz in 1998.

This one was said to date from the 1960s. It has what I call “almond shaped ” eyes, which are commonly seen on Bonifacio’s masks, but alternating with other eye designs, and all these options are to be found on the masks of other Rio Mayo carvers. The rims of these particular eyes are painted but not elevated (not carved in relief).

Bonifacio also chooses from a number of mouth designs. I will call this one a “pointed grin,” when comparing it to his other favorites. Mouths with either flat or curved upper lips and pointed ends are characteristic for this carver, and one could call them auxiliary identifiers, but they too are sufficiently generic that they don’t distinguish one carver from another.

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Mayo Masks from the Mexican State of Sonora: Francisco “Pancho” Parra II

Today we will examine four more beautiful old masks that were carved  by Francisco “Pancho” Parra. I photographed the first three in the collection of Jerry Collings in 2011, and he kindly gave me permission to publish them as I wished. It is my understanding that those three may have been later traded to the Gallery West in Tucson Arizona. The first of these was collected from Eduardo Valenzuela of El Rodeo, Sonora, who said it was made in about 1963.

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A Remarkable Rio Mayo Pascola Mask


I had planned to continue discussion of the masks of Francisco “Pancho” Parra today, but I realized that I was uncertain about certain details. I am postponing that post and substituting the one that was to follow.

I bought today’s attractive and highly unusual mask from my friend Tom Kolaz in 2014. His runner had found it in the Rio Mayo area of Sonora. At that time it was still being danced. The Moroyoqui family of Sonora had originally purchased it circa 1940, it had remained in that extended family until the time of purchase, and the carver was said to be Gerardo Arce, an individual whom the family identified as someone who had carved more than one mask. Gerardo is otherwise unknown to either Tom Kolaz or myself. There are two possibilities here; either Gerardo is a newly identified master carver of great talent, or the carver was actually someone else and the family’s report is in error. The problem, as you may recall from my earlier posts about Yaqui Pascola masks, is that these attributions by sellers frequently appear to be erroneous, when one compares a given mask to those of well recognized carvers. The shaping of the joint between the top of the nose and the forehead of this mask resembles the style of Pancho Parra, whose masks were the subject of my last two posts. However, the mask is otherwise different from those of Pancho in various respects, with some features that seem m/l generic in the Rio Mayo tradition, others found on older anonymous Mayo Pascola masks, and the unusual forehead that seems unique to this mask. To my eye this mask is a masterpiece.

In general, this mask is clearly in the Rio Mayo style, with an oval shape, moderately long hair bundles for the brows and beard, almond shaped eyes, decorative painted design elements that flank the nose, and a slightly open mouth. It may or may not have originally had a tongue. This tongue is a separate wooden element that has been inserted between the teeth and secured with a nail, a traditional variation found on a few other Mayo Pascola masks.

The artistry of the carving and decoration make one think of one of the premier Yaqui carvers of the mid-20th century, Manuel Centella Escalante. Having said this, one must add that the forehead cross and the rim design look nothing like his work. One would be more tempted to think that a Mayo carver saw a Centella mask and was inspired to copy some aspects of his style. Continue Reading

Mayo Masks from the Mexican State of Sonora: Francisco “Pancho” Parra

Another carver included in Jim Griffith’s study (see last week’s post) was “Francisco Parras,” although the author did not include any photos of masks by that artist. One more often sees this man’s name rendered as “Pancho” Parra. He was an excellent and prolific mascarero for many years, and his Pascola masks are heavily represented in several important collections. Pancho has lived in various towns in Sonora, including  Salitrál, a rancho in the Municipio of Alamos, El Retiro, El Rodeo, and Wirachaka. I bought my first mask by Pancho from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1988. It had been brought up from Sonora by Roberto Ruiz with little provenance. I owned it for years before discovering the name of the carver by comparing it to masks in some of those other collections. I just discovered that I probably have a second Pancho Parra mask, having long thought it was by someone else. Had I the opportunity, I would have bought many more masks by this carver, because I really admire his artistry. Fortunately I have permission to include many photos of additional examples from another collection.

Rio Mayo Pascola masks usually lack the carved and/or painted white triangles under the eyes that we find on Yaqui Pascola masks. Instead we often see designs flanking the nose, oval in this instance. The red lips on this mask were apparently painted with nail polish.

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Mayo Masks from the Mexican State of Sonora: Candelario Verduga

I decided to begin a series of posts about Mayo Pascola masks today. I hope that you like them.

In March 1988 I purchased my first two Mayo Pascola masks from Robin and Barbara Cleaver of Santa Fe, New Mexico. These masks had been brought North from Mexico by a Mexican “runner” (picker), Roberto Ruiz. Over time, Roberto turned out to be the original source of many other Yaqui and Mayo Pascola masks that entered my collection, but I first heard of him in connection with this pair. That same Roberto had collected two Mayo Goat Pascola masks that I bought very recently on EBay™, and included in my post of July 30, 2018. Masks supplied by Roberto were sometimes accompanied by information of variable reliability about the town of origin, the name of the carver, the estimated length of use, and perhaps even the name of the dancer who last used the mask, but in this case there was very limited information.

Here is the first of the Mayo Pascola masks that I purchased in 1988. It was said to have been found in La Bocana, in the Municipio of Etchojoa, Sonora. I eventually learned, from Tom Kolaz, that this mask had design features typical of a well known Mayo carver, Candelario Verduga, who had lived in La Bocana. He is deceased.

Here is a YouTube™ video from Pueblo Viejo, a Rio Mayo town that is just 5 km. north of La Bocana. You will see that Mayo Pascola dancers wear shirts, instead of dancing  bare-chested as Yaqui Pascolas do, but otherwise their dance accessories, costume, and style are quite similar to those of Yaqui dancers.

This is an older mask with great patina. I believe that it dates to the 1960s or 70s. It served me as a wonderful introduction to Mayo Pascola masks.

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Other Masks From The Sierra de Juárez, Oaxaca

When I purchased the Tusked Negrito mask (post of August 13, 2018) from the Tesoros Trading Company in Austin Texas, I also obtained two other masks there that appeared to be from the Sierra Juárez area of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, but obviously from other dances. Both had neck straps, one held by a metal staple and the other threaded through a hole in the chin. Since then I have also acquired two other masks, which appeared to be Cubano masks (Negrito masks that lack tusks), from the same region. Today we will examine those four masks, beginning with the Cubanos.

I have introduced you to Barbara Mauldin’s book—Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life. On page 66 (the page facing the one about Tusked Negritos) there is a dance photo of the Cubanos dancers taken in 1964 in Tamazulapan, Oaxaca, wearing the same sort of elaborate costumes that are worn by the Tusked Negrito figures. There is also a photo of a Cubano (or Mulatto) mask from the collection of the Museum of International Folk Art. As you saw in recent posts, there are Negrito masks in the Sierra region that have snouts and tusks, and others which lack these features. It is the latter group that have sometimes been called Mulattos or Cubanos. Currently these masks have black complexions, although they may have been brown or black in the past.

Here is a link to an old photo from Tehantepec, Oaxaca, followed by a YouTube™ video of a Negritos (or Cubanos) dance group from Yalalag, Oaxaca.

And here is a Cubano mask from this region that I purchased from Bob Ibold in 2004. It appears to have great age.

This is such a simple mask, and at the same time, such a superb old mask.

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Tusked Negrito Masks From the Sierra de Juarez, Oaxaca 2

Last week we looked at photos of Tusked Negrito masks from a collection that was probably created in the 1950s and 60s, and then I presented three Tusked Negrito masks that looked like those in a group photo. Today we will examine two additional pairs. I bought the first pair from Robin and Barbara Cleaver in 1995. They had obtained them from an older Oaxacan collection. There was an identical pair that the Cleavers kept for their own collection, but later sold to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico; you can see those two in Barbara Mauldin’s book, Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life (page 67), where she estimated them as having been made in the mid-1950s. Here are my two masks from that set of four. They are very similar to one another, and each has leather tusks, as do the other two in the museum collection.

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Tusked Negrito Masks From the Sierra de Juarez, Oaxaca

In 1975, Virginia E. Miller, Dudley M. Varner, and Betty A. Brown published an important article in The Masterkey, the Journal of the Southwest Museum (Volume 49, No. 2, April-June 1975, pp. 44-50)—”The Tusked Negrito Mask of Oaxaca.” The authors began by noting that these are but one example of a larger class  of darkly colored masks worn by “masked buffoons” who “act as clowns, masters of ceremony, and policeman during the ceremonies (page 44).” Tusked Negrito masks are used in Zapotec towns in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.”They usually appear in pairs accompanying the Plume Dance” and these masks can also be used in related dances in this region, sometimes in larger groups. There are similar snouted masks that lack tusks in neighboring communities. The authors speculate that the Tusked Negrito image may be a survival of some pre-Conquest tradition. In earlier posts I have shown other examples of masks worn by black-faced ritual clowns, such as Yaqui Pascolas and Negritos from the coastal Mixtec towns.

The Tusked Negrito article includes a photo of four Tusked Negrito masks from the Paul Pérez collection. Here is that image.

The Paul Pérez collection is currently available for viewing in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin, and in the link that follows you can see color photos of three of those four masks—numbers 20, 78, and  81, plus several others (94 and 176). There are many other interesting masks in this collection, of which I would like to highlight just one more—#101—which would appear to be a rather rare example of a Chilolo mask from Oaxaca.

In May of 1996 I found a wonderfully worn Tusked Negrito mask in Austin, Texas, at the Tesoros Trading Company, an ethnographic arts store. Here is a link to that store; Tesoros is still there, although I don’t see any masks for sale on their website.

Here is that mask. The wooden or leather tusks are missing, but the recesses that had held them are evidence of their earlier presence. Next week I will show you a nearly identical pair of masks with their leather tusks intact,but this week I want to focus on a variety of examples like the ones in the Pérez Collection photo.

Tusked Negrito masks tend to have snouted mouths. The tusks can be made from leather or wood.

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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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