Wooden Mask

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Handmade Guatemalan wooden masks

Guatemalan masks have been present in their culture since time immemorial. Thus, since pre-Hispanic times, their use has been a constant. These masks do not only have the function of covering the face, but they are also a transforming element for the wearer. Thus, the dancer acquires the skills and characteristics of the figure he represents through his mask. Guatemalan wooden masks reach their maximum expression in traditional or folkloric dances.

Evolution of Guatemalan masks

In Mayan times, the masks used had a religious significance, and were made of stone or baked clay. The death masks made of jade are clear examples of this period.

Later, in the Hispanic and colonial periods, the masks used in dances began to be made of wood. The technique used to make the masks was similar to that used to make wooden sculptures of saints.

It was during this period that the morerías, mask factories and the carving of other figures began to appear, although they began to reach their apogee in the 19th century.

The wood used at this time was hard and noble, such as cedar, on which stucco was applied and then painted. Guatemalan wooden masks were treasured by their families. They were passed down from father to son, repaired many times and can now be seen in various museums around the country.

Today, carpenters have replaced cedar wood with a softer wood. Craftsmen now use the wood of the white pine. However, the workmanship is still entirely handmade.

Manufacture of Guatemalan wooden masks

The elaboration of wooden masks is done in the different morerías that exist in Guatemala. Creating a quality mask takes a learning process in both carving and painting that takes years. Normally it is a profession that is passed down within the same family from generation to generation.

In this way, each family brings characteristic features to their creations, both in the shape of the mask and in the intricacy of its decoration.

Wooden masks are made from a piece of wood, currently white pine.

From the piece of wood, the craftsman hollows out and shapes the mask with the help of a machete. Later, using chisels and gouges for the more delicate processes, they obtain the characteristic features of the mask. These tools are also used to finish the hollowing out of the inside of the mask.

Once the carved wood with the rough mask is ready, different processes are applied to it to increase its durability. When they are dry, the artisans paint the masks by hand using oil paints. In this step the creativity of the author reaches its peak. We can find masks that are authentic works of art.

It is in the “morerías” where the dancers buy the masks and costumes to perform the dances, or rent them. Nowadays they are a desirable decorative element that will give a unique touch of colour to your home.

You can find a wide variety of authentic handcrafted wooden masks made in Guatemala in our online shop, in the decorative masks section.

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