~ by Susie Atkinson Fotos: Brock de Lappe
The Borucans have become through the years very detailed relief carvers. Relief carvings have a flat back, and
the image is carved in three dimensions, obtaining unbelievable depths, all from one piece of wood. Traditional carved masks are made from two types of wood, cedar and balsa.
Cedar is very hard and difficult to carve, conversely; balsa wood is very soft, and these balsa masks are where the artists can really achieve the many nuances of facial expression.
There are three distinct styles, and each tells a specific story about Borucan culture. The first is the ‘diablito’ or ‘devil’ mask. It is the most traditional, dating back to the Spanish Occupation. The second is the ‘ecologica’ (ecologic), featuring animals and plants of the rainforest, and these were originated by a new generation of artists concerned about the imminent threat to their culture due to the destruction of their environment. The third, ‘combinados’ (Combined) are the metamorphosis of both the ‘diablitos’ and the ‘ecologica,’ as they represent the blending of the traditional and contemporary styles.
The masks start out with a log of either balsa wood or cedar. After removing any bark, the log is cut a bit longer than the final length of the completed mask. This log is then cut vertically to produce two half-round pieces, and the interior is hollowed out with a chisel and hammer.
Next, the rounded front of the mask is hand sanded to a smooth surface, and the design is sketched onto the wood. The artists now begin to remove the negative background area, slowly creating a high relief three dimensional face. These beautifully carved masks can be seen by both a visit to the village of Boruca, or here locally at Boruca Gallery Gift Shop.