About the Collection
Teodoro Vidal: The Collector
The life and work of the cultural visionary.
Puerto Rican History
Art, artifacts, and archival documents illustrating the island’s history.
Objects, photographs, and aspirations of working men and women on the island.
The art and traditions of the Catholic folk culture of Puerto Rico.
The revelers, masks, and artisans who make the Carnaval de Ponce.
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The musical instruments and traditions of bomba, música jíbara, and plena.
The Great Puerto Rican Family
Portraits of Puerto Ricans during an era of dramatic economic and social change.
Carnivals are of ancient origin and virtually all peoples in all eras have organized carnivals to mark or celebrate different events. Carnivals can be magical, political, satirical, or purely entertaining; some even poke fun at death. In much of Puerto Rico, and other parts of the world with a strong Roman Catholic presence, Carnaval has a special meaning. It refers to the last days before the beginning of Lent. In Puerto Rico, Carnaval begins on February 2 and lasts until Ash Wednesday, which is forty days before Easter.
In many carnivals, masks are key ingredients of the public spectacle. The prominence of masquerading devils during Carnival is understood by many as an ancient reference to the contest between good and evil. Although introduced by Spanish settlers, the customs of the island’s carnival, like mask making, music, and public performance, have developed into uniquely Puerto Rican traditions that also reflect the customs and sensibilities of Puerto Ricans’ African ancestors.
Carnaval de Ponce
Many masks and costumes come from the carnival in Ponce, a town in southern Puerto Rico. The carnival dates from the mid-1700s and involves revelry, music, masks, and costumes. The masks are made of papier-mâché in scary and devilish shapes, with brilliant colors, horns, and playful designs. Costumes are one-piece coveralls made of bright cloth. Yellow and red, the colors of the Spanish flag, and black and red, the colors of the town of Ponce, are most common. A person in full regalia is called a vejigante. His role is to scare people, especially children, by swatting them with a vejiga, a dried and inflated cow bladder.
Carnaval has been popularized and preserved, partly through the efforts of Teodoro Vidal. Many Ponceños consider him a hero for publicizing the Ponce carnival and documenting the tradition of maskmaking in his book, The Papier Maché Masks of the Ponce Carnival.
Mask Makers from Ponce
Juan Alindato was born in 1921 in the barrio Playa in Ponce. He apprenticed as a young man with a well-known mask maker, Francisca Salvador, whose daughter he married. He and his family have evolved a distinctive style of mask making. Their style uses many horns and up to twelve layers of papier-maché, highlighting the eyes for a raccoon-like effect. Alindato masks are shown in many folk art fairs and other exhibitions.
Born in 1929, Leonardo Pagán was the student of a renowned maskmaker, Juan Careta, who worked from the 1890s until the 1950s. After his mentor's death, Pagán masks became highly prized. Pagán is well known for a simple red devil's mask with three horns and a protruding tongue. He has sold over 400 masks at Carnival time, and Pagán masks are also sold in the craft stores in Old San Juan.
Miguel Caraballo works in a tuna cannery, selling masks from his home and directly to stores. Famed for his fine craftsmanship, he fabricates and paints his masks with painstaking detail. Caraballo learned his art as a boy from a woman in his neighborhood of Playa de Ponce.