A Travel Memory

The mask that inspired our search for the artist.

The mask that inspired our search for Margarito Melchor Santiago

December 27, 2019:

We are walking through the small town of San Martín Tilcajete searching for the artist, Margarito Melchor Santiago. We had spotted a carved wood mask of his in the tiny museum Museo de Arte Popular Oaxaca in San Bartolo Coyotepec. We had only the name but we knew this was a small town and people should know the artist.

Asking around at the shops on the main street into town, a helpful merchant said he did know the artist and drew us a tiny map and pointed up the hill. We began walking up the hill and continued as the road went from cobblestones to hard-packed dirt. As we walked up hills we began seeing murals that had a similar theme.

We made a few wrong turns but finally found the studio and Margarito Melchor Santiago and his family warmly welcomed us inside. They were very pleased that we had sought them out after seeing their mask in the display of regional artists in the museum. They described how their family had a long tradition of mask carving beginning with his father, who stepped inside the showroom momentarily to say hello and to please excuse him for he had much work to so.

We inquired whether they had any more masks, but Margarito shook his head no. He explained they were busy making masks that had been commissioned for delivery in time for the big carnaval coming up in a few weeks. The carnaval begins in the morning when the boys and men paint their bodies with colors, some with motor oil, wear devil masks and parade throughout the village. The carnaval has been getting much attention in the past few years, attracting many from outside of this small village. Our hosts invited us to return for carnaval – someday we might.

Linda and Scott Marston-Reid pose with Margarito Melchor Santiago and family. Linda holds the Gallo, which did return home with us.