I first met Candelario in December of 1990. My buddy Ben Jacobson and I were driving from Madison, Wisconsin, to Colima, Mexico to spend the holidays with my good friend Carlos and his family. Carlos, like almost everyone else in Colima was familiar with the area's local mask maker. After all, Candelario's family had been the local mask makers for five generations. Also, Candelario not only makes the masks, he leads the dances and rituals as well.
When we first met Candelario he had a badly infected thumb that was cut deeply in a mask carving mishap a few weeks earlier. We had a first aid kit in our van and fixed him up as best we could with ointment and gauze. I was surprised to see him carving masks with dull, crude knives and chisels, a manner I would have envisioned a thousand years earlier, in pre-Columbian times.
I was taken aback by the poverty in the little Nahua village of Suchitlán, Colima where Candelario lives. There was one spigot in the center of the community where everyone got their water. There was no electricity. Candelario lived in a large canvas tent with a dirt floor, like every floor in the village.
As poor as Candelario was, the community held him in the highest esteem as their brujo, or spiritual advisor. Brujo literally means witch in Spanish, but in this case he was the person, or part of the family, responsible for carving masks, making costumes, and leading the ceremonies. Another function he served involved teaching his son the art of mask and costume making, and the far greater responsibility of learning the dances and rituals themselves. This involves an intricate knowledge of the history of the culture, as well as the devotion to keep the rituals true to their historical context and integrity. Some of the rituals are highly intricate and detailed, with many different dances taking place throughout the year. Candelario makes 115 different masks, each with a special unique purpose. In return for his role in the community, Candelario is provided with enough food and resources to support his family.
When I met Candelario he was well known locally, but relatively unknown on a larger scale. He was very generous with his knowledge and allowed me to not only purchase some of his finest pieces, but also to photograph him carving pieces. Since then, he has pieces published in Mask Arts of Mexico. 1994. Chronicle Books, as well as Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art from the collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex. 2001.
Photos of Candelario taken in 1990 by Ben Jacobson