The basic Guatemalan mask

Q:  Will you share this mask with your viewers?  It’s an old Guatemalan mask, probably from late XIXth or early XXth century. This is suggested by the beautiful dark patina on the back with smooth edges, a kind of patina typical of old dense hardwood, here probably cedar. So different from the back of artificially aged recent masks. Another characteristic is the aspect of shelves of the carving of the back, found on very old masks only.

It was probably a female character, suggested by the holes for earrings. Nevertheless, the same face could be used as male character, as it has been recently confirmed to me by Don Nery Tistoj, the present owner of the antique Tistoj moreria in San Cristobal Totonicapán. For your information see the pic taken in the moreria one year ago: all these masks are used both as female and male, depending on the dance and the village concerned.

The back shows a carved mark, present on several other masks referenced in books or museums, sometimes in association with the mark of the Cruz Juarez moreria CJ, another historical moreria in San Cristobal Totonicapán, active in early and mid XXth. According to Nery Tistoj, this could be also a mark from this moreria. My hypothesis is that some carvers/artists working could have signed their own productions, adding their mark to the “official” moreria mark CJ when the mask belongs to the moreria, or not. The marks carved or burned on old masks are very interesting to study, but unfortunately very poorly documented.  Jean, 1822

A:  I am pleased when Jean shares one of his masks with us. It’s always authentic and especially beautiful. This time I want to add how Guatemalan masquerade is in  someways different from anywhere else. Their masks are rented from small shops (morerias). When the masks begin to show signs of wear they are repaired if necessary and repainted. A new dance that has a different cast of characters may cause the proprietor to change a few colors. Look at the shop wall. Some of those nine Europeans with black hair may be turned into an Indian character. Old Guatemalan masks can have many layers of colored paint. A

One Comment

  • Alicia

    This is more of a question than a comment. I have a Guatemalan mask with the initials of a moreria on back. It’s been recently painted and I find the color too garish. Could I apply a solvent to diminish the saturation without harming the value? Thx.

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