Boruca mask in need of fix up

Costa Rica
Costa Rica

Q:  Another mask found in a flea market– really well carved and sanded, unpainted, with eyes holes, so it could be worn, though uncomfortably as there is no place for nose. Just curious about its provenance. Looks Native American to me. The wood is tight grained and a soft brown color. I am stumped. Can you help?  Paule, 720

A:  This is a Devil mask from the Boruca (Borunca, Brunka), a small culture located in southwestern Costa Rica. Even though they are closer to the Pacific Ocean, their masks seem to be influenced by Caribbean-African culture. Typically they are very well carved and painted. Yours is not painted and would therefore disappoint most collectors. Why not paint it? You can find plenty of pictures of beautiful examples on the internet. It will increase its value.

Painting this mask will increase its value. We normally would not advise someone to repaint a mask. That is usually a bad idea, but in this case the mask is unfinished… and I think you will have a good time doing it, and I’d love to see a photo when you are done.


  • paule

    bob, does it make a difference whether the wood is balsa or cedar – mine is definitely cedar…also i see that some of the Boruca masks sold on line and carved by Don ishmael gomez, Sr, or other senior carvers, are often unpainted – do you think any of this makes a difference ? inside mine, it is faintly signed Marte R M and then H 6000. otherwise i do hear your suggestion of painting it. thank you

    • Bob Ibold

      I don’t think the wood makes much difference. Masks from all over the world can be unpainted because American and European tourists sometimes like them that way. Don’t know R M Marte or what H 6000 means. Fear no art.

  • Chris

    I’m sorry to jump into the discussion, but I would refrain from painting it oneself – it might be a mask for tourist sale, but it is still a genuine handcrafted piece from a certain culture. I would rather take it on a trip to Costa Rica some day and have it painted by some Boruca artist down there (and this might be a nice adventure, too). Until then, I think with adequate light facilities it would make a nice apparition on the wall the way it is now.

  • Eddier

    I visited the Boruca Village last week. It is not too far from where I leave, about 1.5 hours.
    I learned that they tend to paint the masks made out of balsa wood, but the ones made out of cedar they leave unpainted the majority of the time.
    This is because cedar is a nicer looking wood and they believe it looks better natural.
    I personally like better the painted ones.
    I will be going again in the next couple of weeks. I am trying to help them sell their art and I need to go buy more mask soon.
    I am a Costa Rican who lived in Chicago for 14 years. Now that I have returned I am helping the local artisans by selling their creations.
    If you still want to have it painted I can help you by taking it to them. And in case any body want to see more of them you can find some here:

  • Josh

    I love Borucan masks as well. Just stumbled upon this site


    I’ll be traveling to Montego Bay, Jamaica in August – any recommendations which mask/store to seek out?

  • Tom Kolaz

    Boruca consider cedar a noble wood and it is usually never painted. The oldest Boruca masks I’ve researched are unpainted. It would be a mistake to paint this mask in my opinion. This is a very nice mask and stands on its own. I prefer the older unpainted masks but they are getting very difficult to find.

  • paule

    i have just sent pictures of this mask which i did paint. i sort of went along with your suggestion Bob. I am only seeing this response now which adresses my question about the cedar…oh well – water under the bridge now.

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