Another Guatemalan mask

Q: Here is a Guatemalan masks recently found, and now just coming back from the restorer. It could be a “cristiano” or “conquistador.” The style of the masks is of the Alta Verapaz region, probably from early-mid XX. There is a nice dark patina on the back. Very hard wood, and heavy. It has a thick layer of gesso and several layers of paint. Jean, 1608

A: We have a lot of masks from the small country of Guatemala in the archives of this site. Even though you can immediately recognize the country of origin, this mask is different from all the others. One can tell it is old and used, but in very good condition. Obviously, it was restored by a skilled professional.

I hope Jean will comment on the restoration process. Perhaps one of our readers would like to consider having this procedure done to one or more of his/her’s mask collection. A+


  • Jean

    Hi Bob,
    There are different opinions about restoration of masks (or any other object of art). Some accept large repaints or even partial reconstruction, giving the mask a new-old look, sometimes different from the original state. Reasons are frequently commercial. I don’t like that.
    For me, the restoration must have a limited role, it must never change the soul of the item. I limit restoration to some points:
    – cleaning : dirt is not patina, it is just dirt; and if patina disappears with cautious cleaning, it is not patina, but fake!
    – to prevent further damage by fixing paint and gesso when they start to peel off or when there are fissures. The restorer inject glue below the peeling layers.
    – exceptionally, and with caution and restraint, to repair small damaged areas.

    The present mask had multiple fissures in the pigment layer and underlying gesso which started to peel off in some places: the restorer just fixed them. There is no difference in the general aspect of the mask before and after, we just prevent further deterioration.

  • Bob Ibold

    Excellent directions. I would only add that there are probably skilled wood carvers and carpenters within driving distance who might be willing to do your mask if you show it to them and explain exactly what you want. Big time collectors and museums go to expensive restorers.

  • Jean

    Same comment as for post “Should I buy this mask ?” from 7 August 2018:
    Discussion last week with the owners of Buchan moreria in Chichicastenango: the numbers carved on the back of a mask are the year of production. Opinion not shared by the owner of the Tistoj moreria….

  • Alicia

    Can you name someone here in the US who does this kind of work? If the mask is not rare, couldn’t you do it yourself if all that needs to be done is sanding off flaking gesso, applying more, covered by acrylic paint?

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