Collectible Mexican Dance Masks

Mexican masks have a long history that combines paganism and Christianity, indigenous traditions and European ones.

Before the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the introduction of Christianity, the gods and goddesses of Mexican religion were much like those portrayed in Greek myths. They were unpredictable and capricious. The dances and Mexican masks developed during this time reflected hardship and sacrifice as well as ingenuity and rebirth. After the conquest, Catholicism and paganism merged, both in culture and in masks. Masks reflected the concepts of good and evil and human and Christian dramas. Today, Mexican art masks, which still show the marks of the melding of ancient the Mexican religion and Christianity, continue to be used in local performances and are cherished by collectors.

Types of Dance Mask Makers
There are three types of dance mask makers: santeros, professional and amateur.

  • Santeros not only create masks, they create statues and sculptures for the Catholic Church. Since these artists are paid by the Church, their work tends to be of high quality, and their masks are typically the most ornate.
  • Professionals have been trained by other mask makers and continue to make masks in the traditional manner, using traditional materials and methods.
  • Amateurs may or may not have had formal training from professional mask makers. Their work may be non-traditional or be of lower quality than masks made by professionals and santeros. Amateurs are often those who produce masks for tourists as the demand for Mexican dance masks increasers.

Traditional Mexican Dance Masks
Mexican dance masks are not worn in just any type of dance. These masks are worn as part of a dance that tells a story, like a play.

While there are standard types of characters that are masked in many of the dances, the masks themselves may or may not have similarities. For example, one common character mask is the "negrito." Negrito masks are used in several different dances throughout Mexico, such as Dance of the Tejorones. Negrito masks all have black skin colors, although other features on the masks may vary.

Collecting Mexican Dance Masks
The art of making Mexican masks is slowly disappearing, and the best advice to the collector is the simplest: Buyer beware. Documented provenance, certificates that attest to the origins of a mask, can help establish age authenticity.

But you don't have to focus on antique or collectible Mexican masks. You can also collect masks made by modern artists or buy masks that you like, regardless of age or artist. 

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