The workshop of dreams
By Jesús Aguado
The workshop of artisan and traditionalist Juan José Montiel is situated in colonia (neighborhood) San Antonio.
With his mind and hands and the help of some women, he makes dreams come true for people who want an outstanding disguise. Montiel has been participating in the celebration to honor St. Pascual Bailón and St. Anthony for more than 50 years. At his workshop, the gypsum molds are spread out everywhere. Rows of masks dry under the sun, some white, and others with the final touches of decoration.
Montiel explained that people arrive at his workshop with a single photo of the character they want reproduced in a mask—Maleficent, Woody, The Red Queen, Snow White, Pinocchio, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster—the list is endless. To make a mask, the process starts with making a plasticized sculpture. Then the piece is covered with gypsum. When the mold is ready, the mask receives its shaping with paper and engrudo (paste made with water and flour). The mask is taken out and dried in the sun. When the mask is ready, it is painted with white paint, decorated with other colors, and finally lacquered.
Don Juan José said that this year the theme of his group of crazies “Los Camoteros” (Sweet potato vendors) is alebrijes. These fantastic monsters—the alebrijes—are neither “expressible nor audible,” but they are visible, and they will be at the parade.