masks from Latin America

Mesoamerican Mask Collection

The Center for Latin American Studies is proud to be the home of an extensive Mesoamerican Mask Collection originally curated by Dr. Janet Brody Esser. This collection includes over 300 masks from regions in Mexico, such as Michoacan, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, and more. The masks are made of wood, paper mâché, leather, and clay. Many contain organic elements, including animal horns, cow teeth, wool, horsehair, animal skin, and corn. This collection is accessible through this website or by appointment.

About Janet Brody Esser

Janet EsserDr. Janet Brody Esser (1930-2019) received her B.A. from the University of Iowa, M.A. in art history with an emphasis on anthropology and archeology from California State University, Long Beach, and Ph.D. in art history from UCLA. She was a professor emerita in the Art and Latin American Studies Departments of San Diego State University from 1975 until 2003. Dr. Brody Esser was a renowned expert in the fields of Mexican folk art and Indigenous Mexican culture, especially those of the state of Michoacán. 

In 1988, she served as the senior curator of “Behind the Mask in Mexico,” an exhibition mounted by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. She edited the illustrated catalog for the exhibition and authored several essays on mask-making and the ritual use of masks by the Michoacán. Published by the Museum of New Mexico Press, the catalog won the Hubert B. Herring Memorial Award for the best scholarly book published in 1988 by the Pacific Coast Council for Latin American Studies. In 2006, Los Amigos del Arte Popular bestowed its annual Van Deren Coke Achievement Award for her contributions to scholarly knowledge and an appreciation of American and Latin American folk art. 

About the Collection

Dr. Esser collected these masks by purchasing them from artists and local vendors. She and her team created the inventory, which includes photographs of masks and specific metadata about each mask. The Center for Latin American Studies at San Diego State University created a secondary inventory for additional masks that were donated but not included in Dr. Esser’s original inventory. 

The item numbers are arranged based on Esser Brody’s inventory. Additional masks not included in the original inventory were given unique identifiers for cataloging purposes.

Masks may be viewed by appointment only. The collection opens for viewing on August 19, 2024 (the calendar will open on August 12 for appointments).

Make an appointment.

For research projects/thesis involving masks additional slots can be arranged, please contact [email protected].