A visit with a 95+ year old mask carver.

Mexican Masks

A Giant Among Carvers of Mexican Dance Masks

El Señor Don
Teodoro Tacuepian Galván
Born 14 July 1911

Update: On or about 13 December 2012 I received an update from friends that Don Teodoro seems to be as active as ever at age 101 years of age.  He continues to carve many masks from the wood of his avocado orchard.

I had the great privilege of meeting Don Teodoro for the first time on 31 December 2005. I did not have my camera along with me on this occasion so we borrowed a cracker box of a camera and it continued to function even after we dropped it.  We sent his great-grandson on a walk to the village to pick up a roll of film.  The road was too treacherous for me to want to make too many trips over it.  I damaged the oil pan on a prior trip near there about a month prior.  I did not care for that to happen again.  The four principal pictures shown here are a product of that roll of film.

I had seen many masks made by Don Teodoro as far away as Oaxaca.  I had purchased many.  My picker had been trying for a year to find who made the masks.  He finally located him in the state of Puebla near Zacapoaxtla in a village called Tatoxcac.  He still makes masks in his free time when he gets hot or tired working up in the hills near his home.
Don Teodoro is a self-taught mask carver. He is able to carve one mask a day.  Aguacate is his wood of preference. He uses pieces of broken glass as scrapers to smooth out the roughly chiseled wood.  Then in other free moments he applies the paint using homemade paint brushes made from turkey feathers.  He takes a large quill and cuts off the tip so that it looks about like the tip of a ball point pin.  Through that hole he inserts smaller, finer feathers.  I hope he does not mind me revealing his trade secrets.
Don Teodoro began carving at age 63 so if you find one of his masks, it is unlikely that it is more than 31 years old.  I have some of his older masks that seem to have been more finely carved and beautifully painted.  From the form I can be certain that he carved the masks in question, but I suspect that the sometimes quite beautifully decorated masks have been repainted by others and sometimes adapted to be used as carnival masks.
Important notice 4 Nov 2009:  I have noticed that the market has been recently flooded with masks of Don Teodoro's design.  Some of the masks are skillfully painted and artificially worn  and patinated, both on front and back.  Some have been patinated less skillfully, mostly with smoke on the back. Collectors should be aware of this realizing that those who do the alteration are trying to deceive.  I am speaking of masks such as the one that he is holding -- but with other paint.  I don't know if the deceptive masks were purchased from Teodoro and patinated by someone else or if someone is now carving with the same design as his.  The dealers that are selling these masks are naturally claiming ignorance of any deception.
What a pleasure to converse with this man and see his demonstrations. He is extremely hard of hearing and one must shout very close to his ear to be heard.  He seems to have an eternal smile and seems to really enjoy being with people.
 I hope that you have enjoyed sharing my experience with El Señor Don Teodoro Tacuepian Galvan whom I consider a giant among the carvers of Mexican dance masks.
My name is Vernon Kostohryz.  That's me next to Don Teodoro.
I am happily retired in San Miguel de Allende, Gto.; Mexico, and mostly as a pastime buy and sell Mexican antiques.
Click here if you are interested in the online purchase of Mexican antiques in general. 
Click here if you would like more specifically to see or purchase antique Mexican dance masks.

Vernon R. Kostohryz

May He Rest In Peace

His memory lives on.

El Señor Don

Teodoro Tacuepian Galván

At the Age of 102 years

Passed Away 26 November 2013

Over 600 people participated in his funeral procession.

The above mask recently carved by Don Teodoro was exhibited as a memorial at his last rites.

Photo presented courtesy Jovani Damián, a Great-Grandson, and resident of Pennsylvania, USA.

Antique Mexican Dance Masks