Bill LeVasseur has collected hundreds of Mexican masks from remote villages that now hang on the walls of his museum in San Miguel de Allende. He's singlehandedly preserving a piece of Mexican culture that few realize is still thriving today.
Sara Miller Llana
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Bill LeVasseur never set out to become an ethnographer. Or a historian, anthropologist, migration specialist, or scholar of syncretism for that matter. He was an American advertising executive living in Mexico City who simply liked Mexican folk art.
But in the past two decades he has become all of those things, of sorts at least, amassing a collection of hundreds of Mexican masks from remote villages across the country that today he hangs on the walls of his museum in San Miguel de Allende. In doing so, he has singlehandedly preserved a piece of Mexican culture that few realize is still thriving today.
“Some of the best compliments I get are from Mexicans,” he says. “ 'Thank you for preserving this,' they say. 'This is part of our culture that we can't lose.' "
Masks have a crucial place in Mexican society, a pre-Hispanic custom that evolved but continued after conquest by the Spanish. Today, particularly in the thousands of tiny towns across the country, artisans still carve them for use in ceremonial dances to celebrate feast days and patron saints, most of it fusing elements of indigenous customs with Roman Catholic narrative.
Mr. LeVasseur stumbled upon masks innocently enough, as an expat on a stint abroad in Mexico City. A colleague gave him one as a present, piquing his curiosity. He started reading. He began going to art fairs to look for new renderings. Then he started traveling the switchbacks across the country.