Mexican or Guatemalan clay mask?

Q:  I bought this mask 30 years ago while traveling in Mexico.  It might be from around Oaxaca.  I find the figure in the forehead to be very intriguing.  Can you tell me anything about it.  It’s either clay or a very hard plaster.  Beverly, 1216

A:  I have seen these painted ceramics before and assumed yours was from Guatemala because of the features. The first Guatemalan mask in my book, Masks of the World, on page 140, is similar to yours. But I’ve also seen Mexican masks made of terracotta. Several very experienced collectors I know consider them decoratives made strictly for the tourist trade. Clay is a terrible material to use for a mask you expect dancers to wear. However, I must say this mask will look very good on the wall.  C+

One Comment

  • Aaron

    I saw clay masks used for the first time in Jalisco, during the Jugada de los Tastoanes. Before the jugada, three “kings” came out accompanying the effigy of St. James. Although the tastoanes wear protective leather masks, the kings wore thick clay masks, presumably because there was no risk of them getting struck and the mask breaking. Nonetheless, the masks were so heavy that most of the time, the kings had to support them with one hand to prevent them from falling off their faces.

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