David Valenzuela is seated on an old kitchen chair in a favored
spot in his home art studio a corner of his backyard shaded
by trees and screened for privacy with palm fronds woven through
the chain-link fence.
no hesitation, he chooses a block of wood about 10 inches tall to
carve into a Yoeme pascola mask, the kind for which he is becoming
so well-known among art collectors.
a machete from the ground, he begins to hack away pieces. Nearby
are the other tools he'll use, all simple ones a file or
rasp, a chisel and a utility knife, the kind you use to open cardboard
carving goes quickly for him, in part because the wood cottonwood,
mostly is soft. It's also because he already knows what he
will carve when he chooses the wood, from the area around Empire
Ranch southeast of Tucson.
not a case of taking whatever he can find, however. Choosing the
wood is, in itself, a prayer.
ask the Creator (to guide us) when we take the wood," he says.
"To me, the wood has to be special. It talks to me it
wants to be carved." But some wood is not to be. It doesn't
want to become a mask, "so I leave it."
wood is cut into suitably sized blocks. Using the machete, he begins
forming the head for the face he sees in the wood.
the file, he shapes the wood into an oval and smooths any rough
edges. Then he uses the utility knife to form the features and the
chisel for the eyeholes and mouth.
is the painting that is time-consuming. The wood is sanded, and
a base coat usually black is applied. Then comes the
design in white and red, possibly other colors.
the design is not a haphazard thing. Each element has meaning, as
do the colors. The artist has freedom to create, but within cultural
can see some of Valenzuela's masks, paintings and sculptures today
at Tohono Chul Park's celebration of Yoeme art and culture.
exhibit, "Yoeme Carving: Generations of Wooden Faces,"
also features art by several other Yoeme artists, including the
celebrated Martinez family Feliciana, Eddie and the late
Frank and Frank Jr. Also, David Moreno and the late Mexican-American
artist Arturo Montoya.
carves masks for use in Yoeme ceremonies, and others for exhibit
or art collectors only.
difference is that the ones he creates strictly as art are not "blessed,"
never intended for use by a pascola "the old man of
the fiesta." And while he does sell the masks he makes as art,
he never charges for the masks a pascola uses. Those are for the
pascola only and should not be touched by another person.
began his art when he was 10, learning from Montoya, whom he calls
his mentor. He learned carving from Yoeme elder Jesus Acuña.
was Montoya who taught him the basics: "to mix paints, to mix
colors. He saw my talent when I was a kid," Valenzuela says.
would give paintings to other kids who would help him, but he wouldn't
give one to me, even though he picked me as his assistant.
'Why?' I asked him. 'Because you are going to be a great artist,'
didn't begin to work with Acuña until he was 25. Acuña
"would carve the mask, and I would design them with my art."
I was curious, and I wanted to carve, too. He said, 'You can do
it; just put your mind to it.'
first mask that I carved looked like a Frankenstein," Valenzuela
says. Then he starts laughing: "A woman bought it."
46, has been doing art painting and sculpture as well as
mask carving for about 36 years, but it has been only in
the last several that he has begun to gain recognition.
we take life for granted," Valenzuela says, recalling the many
years when he drank.
five years ago his older brother, Christopher Gregory Valenzuela,
was diagnosed with cancer. While he struggled with the disease,
he asked his younger brother to promise to quit drinking.
couldn't promise sobriety," Valenzuela says, because every
past promise he made, he broke. Still, he said he'd quit.
he is sober and his art is flourishing and gaining recognition.
He is taking a stronger part in his community and finding ways to
reach out to others, particularly children who show an interest
recalls the words of his friend and fellow artist, the late Leonard
F. Chanda, who always urged him to give up drinking and to join
him in an art show: " 'When you're ready, the way will open
up for you,' he used to say," Valenzuela recalled. "He
days, Valenzuela devotes much of his time to giving back to his
teaches art to children at Hohokam Elementary School during its
end-of-the-year camping trip, and he's active in the Yaqui community.
reporter Rosalie Crowe at 573-4105 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Yaqui were not recognized as a U.S. Native American tribe
Yaqui call themselves "Yoeme" pronounced
Yo-ém-e, with a long "o" and short "e"
sounds. The name "Yaqui" comes from their centuries-old
home along the Rio Yaqui in Mexico.
Yoeme embraced Catholicism in the 1500s when Jesuits came
to New Spain. Since then, their ancient beliefs have blended
with their Christian faith to become their cultural way
there are 16,554 registered tribal members, most living
in Yaqui communities in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties,
including Marana Pueblo, Pascua Pueblo, Old Pueblo and
Barrio Libre in Tucson.
more information on the Yaqui or Yoeme, see www.pascuayaqui-nsn.gov
of the Yoeme mask maker's art is explained
David Valenzuela explains the Yoeme mask symbolism:
The death that everyone goes through.
The blood of Christ.
Candlelight; every human life. It also represents
Christ's robes and the fact that He died to bring us life.
cross on the forehead For the Father and Son; and
the four directions. It also is a blessing for the dancers
and their families and everyone at the fiesta.
(around the mask's outer edge) Again, the Father
and Son and the beam of life that gives life to all around
us trees and animals, too.
or butterflies Nature.
Our relatives who have passed to the "Flower
(under the eyes) Teardrops. The sadness that comes
from (when the Yoeme were killed and uprooted during)
the Mexican Revolution.
swirls above the eyes The wind.
last things to be added to the mask are the eyebrows and beards
"for the old man" made of tufts of horsehair
inserted through little holes and secured on the inside.