Back in second grade making a papier mâché head was easy. An inflated balloon was plastered with wet paper and some form of adhesive such as wallpaper paste. All that was lacking was a painted happy face.
When Costa Rican artists seek to create one of those giant papier mâché heads, the procedure is much more sophisticated. The traditionalmascaradas are unique works of art.
According to the nation’s heritage center, the first step is creating a form in clay that appears the way the artist wants. Wet paper, old cement sacks and even various types of textiles are pressed into the form.
This is why the Costa Rican mascaradas can have very fine features and in many cases resemble living politicians.
The Centro recounted the explanations of Jorge Corrales, an Alajuelita maker of mascaradas who has been doing so for years and following in the footsteps of an earlier generation.
The process is a long one, and the artists incorporate
steel structures in the giant heads so they can endure the movement during marches and dances. Barva, San Antonio de Escazú and Aserrí are well known for their mascaradas although artists in these towns may use different techniques.
Some today may use fiberglass or other reinforcements, and the traditional mascarada makers accept this grudgingly.
The Centro de Investigación y Conservación del Patrimonio Cultural is involved this year because it is honoring the marcarada makers with prizes. The Centro’s facilities on the San José pedestrian walkway opposite Librería Lehmann have a number of these heads, large and small, on display. Awards will be presented Thursday, Oct. 31, the Día de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense.
Then there will be a parade down the pedestrian walkway to the Plaza de la Cultura at 11:30 a.m. There also will be a parade of mascaradas and cimarrona, the brass street bands, at the culture ministry’s Centro Alajuelense de Cultura in Alajuela.
The tradition of these types of heads predated writing, The Costa Rican mascaradas have their roots in the Middle Ages and the country’s Colonial period. There are identifiable figures, including the Devil, the witch, many of the scary legendary characters and some of the modern figures such as the Pink Panther.
Nearly all are eight to nine feet tall because the figure is carried on the shoulders of marchers.