Traditional Mask-Maker Alex Bermúdez Shares his Trade
By: Gabriela Díaz
While most costume enthusiasts around the world gear up for Halloween on October 31st, Alex Bermúdez, one of Costa Rica’s renowned mask makers, prepares for the Day of the Costa Rican Masquerade.
Masks are colorful members of Costa Rica’s cultural heritage, a tradition revered since colonial times. They are used during typical parades and festivities, and when propped up on a dancer’s shoulders they tower over the crowd and sway their wobbly arms to the music.
Alex, who started creating masks at the age of 15, churns out these enormous, cartoonish structures on a per-request basis through his company, Alegres Mascaradas (Happy Masquerades). For the most part, his creations are molded out of clay, fiberglass and metal, and are shaped into likenesses of characters from traditional Costa Rican legends.
The process involves working a ball of clay into the desired shape and covering it with either a papier-mâché mixture or fiberglass. Fiberglass lasts longer and gives the mask a more polished look. Afterwards, the clay is removed and the mask retains its shape. It is shined, painted and given a metal frame. Then it is outfitted with clothes, wigs and accessories and just like that, a mask is born.
A native of one of Costa Rica’s historic mask-making towns, San Antonio de Desamparados, Alex learned his craft 16 years ago from a neighbor. His two first pieces, for himself and his brother, quickly multiplied into dozens. Today, most of the maestro’s masks are about a meter in length, and can measure over two meters total (depending on the size of the dancer who carries it on his or her shoulders). His most popular order is for the diablito or devil, but he also makes many witches, elves, skulls, and the segua, a mythical female who seduced men with her incredible beauty, only to later reveal herself as a deadly monster.
It takes Alex anywhere from 22-30 days to complete a medium or large creation – the biggest he has ever produced measured two meters in length. Although he will readily take on any project, Alex prefers to avoid television characters and political figures because of difficulties in accurately reproducing facial features on coarse surfaces. He says, “I enjoy it when customers say, ‘do what you like.’ Then I can let my imagination fly, and the end result always comes out better.”
Apart from the larger folk masks, Alex also offers smaller face coverings popular during Halloween. This year, several orders are already in place for Smurfs. Helmets to top off any costume, like vikings or soldiers, are also in great demand. Prices range from ₡35,000 to ₡135,000.
Alegres Mascaradas also provides mask-making workshops and entertainment. They transport masked dancers and musicians to liven up any ceremony – from weddings to divorces, and even funerals. For more information, check out Alex’s facebook page: Alegres Mascaradas or call him at 2259-8880.