Machete Master: Masks by Yoeme Carver Louis Valenzuela [15 Images]

Machete Master: Masks by Yoeme Carver Louis Valenzuela [15 Images]

Lee Allen

When Pascua Yaqui (or Yoeme) woodcarver Louis Valenzuela goes to work carving a pascola (pahko'ola) mask, viewers had best stand back lest they get in the way of his artistic weapon of choice: a very large and very sharp machete. "I started out painting tribal (Yoeme or 'The People') themes on wood and canvas, subjects such as deer dancers and matachines, learning the color palette and how to mix paints to adorn Yaqui polyform sculptures," Valenzuela explains. The jump to actual carving the pascola mask took place nearly 30 years ago, a journey interrupted by a descent into alcohol and drugs. He's been sober since 2005 -- "sobriety is what allowed my creative gift to come forth," he says. Visit to learn more about Valenzuela and his work.

How is machete artwork different from merely whittling wood. How so?

Machete carving is another example of "art-by-hand," how things transform from raw materials into creative art and the beauty and story behind each piece. I search for cottonwood root or desert willow in a riverbed. When I gather my materials, I pay my respects because a tree has a life like we do. Once I select the wood, it talks to me and tells me what it wants to be. I'm just the creator assigned to bring it out.

You're called an ambassador and advocate for the arts of your people -- do you agree?

My artwork is all focused on the tradition of the culture of the Yaqui nation, so I hope it opens the door for people to learn about our peoples in a visually exciting way. From our original home in the fertile Rio Yaqui river valley of Sonora, Mexico, we ended up north of the border and were not federally recognized until 1978. That's a lot of tradition.

What's your creative process?

I have a home art studio in my backyard for my materials, my machete, and me. Masks -- 6" wide, 8" long -- are carved, given a black basecoat, and design elements added along with 12" long horse hair beards.

What keeps you going as an artist?

The further I go with my sobriety, the stronger I get.

What happens next?

There are only a couple of Yoeme carvers left on this side of the U.S./Mexico border, so we're the public personas to keep our traditions going. If nobody picks up the craft, once I’m gone, that's it -- another example of culture dying little by little.

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