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Traditional Mask Making with Mariano Champo

Mariano Champo has been a cherished friend since our early days as a brand. Born and raised in Chiapas, Mexico, Mariano is an artist devoted to the craft of carving and painting traditional wooden masks that depict symbolic characters in Mayan culture. This ancient practice has long been integral to festivals and ceremonies throughout Mexico and dates back centuries.

We first met Mariano in 1991 at our former coffeehouse in Austin, Texas, and visited his studio in Chiapas during a trip to source coffee in the region soon after. Thirty years later, we’ve returned to the same place to reconnect over a cup of coffee.



Mariano began making masks over 50 years ago, when, as a child, he fell in love with El Gigante and the “Danza de Calalá,” a vibrant festivity in his hometown where people wear intricate masks representing deities, animals, and spiritual symbols during the celebrations of Corpus Christi. With no money or experience in art, he crafted his first masks using broken glass bottles and old knives at just eight years old, eventually becoming the apprentice of the renowned Chiapanecan artist, Don Antonio López Hernández.



He went on to study visual arts and was noted as a top student by his teachers who enrolled him in events to gain recognition. Mariano graduated as an archeology technician, but with little investment from the government to preserve ruins or work in the field, he continued to pursue his craft and teach others. Over his decades-long career, Mariano has won first place in many national and international art events and has been featured in documentaries worldwide.



The Jaguar is a recurring figure in Mariano’s masks, a powerful Mayan icon representing authority, strength, and leadership. Ancient Mayan royalty adorned themselves with Jaguar regalia to signify dominance and protection against warfare. Jaguars also represent a bridge to the night and underworld, and they were believed to have the shamanic ability to traverse between earthly and spiritual realms. Ruta Maya’s illustrations are imbued with these myths, as our logo represents the Shield Jaguar King known as Yaxun B'alam IV, a significant ruler of the ancient Mayan city of Yaxchilan.


Inspired by the storytelling of his heritage, Mariano continues to show up to his workshop every day to create new work for a handful of loyal clients. He wakes up at 5 am and enjoys coffee with a little sugar before moving between carving, painting, tending to his home, and spending time with his large family. As he reflected on his journey with us, he expressed the most gratitude for good health, his wife and children, and the simple pleasures of daily life.

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