Old decorative mask from Guerrero

Q: Recently I acquired this mask from a friend. He himself had bought it, along with four others, in the early 90s from an old Guatemalan lady who had been living in Europe for a long time.

After a little research I think this mask is from Guerrero, Mexico. Material: a light wood with colorful paint. Size: 10.2” x 7.1” (26 x 18 cm). It shows a half-naked girl standing on the mask’s face. In the lower part both figures “melt” together: her skirt becomes also a nose and moustache of the mask, her ankles and feet the mask’s funny teeth. The girl upholds in her hands a blue hammer and a red sugarcane(?) and might thus represent agriculture and mining, the region’s economic basis. If this mask has ever been worn (without eye holes!) or if it’s just a decorative piece, I cannot tell. I took it for its funny brightness and joyful spirit. Hanno, 1585

A: I’m glad you bought it. I think it belongs in a good collection. Unlike most tourist masks made in Africa and the rest of the world, those from Mexico are often creative and well made. This begins in the late 19th century when the tourist business got its start in Mexico.

This particular mask, as Hanno recognized, comes from the state of Guerrero. I’ll go a step further and guess it was made by Baldomero Mendoza from the town of Chapa, probably 75 years years ago. Like many professional carvers, he sold both to local dancers and tourists in the middle 20th century. These artists put most of their creative energy into the tourist masks… not the authentic pieces. Collecting masks is full of surprises! (I added a different decorative that came to the Mask Man two days later.) B+

One Comment

  • Hanno (Johannes) von Wackerbarth

    That is indeed a surprise! I could not have resolved the riddle by my own, or better the contradiction between the mask’s quality with old patina and its ‘decorative’ character on the other side. But there is no contradiction. Thank you for this insight and the interesting attribution …

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