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José T. Pischke-Maxwell to exhibit “Modern Vejigantes” at Inspiration Studios

The vejigante is a folkloric figure whose origins trace back to medieval Spain.

By - Jan 23rd, 2017 02:33 pm
Modern Vejigantes

Modern Vejigantes

On Friday, January 27, Inspiration Studios opens an extraordinary exhibit based on Puerto Rican folk art, where all pieces are made of recycled material. The exhibit by emerging artist, Jose T. Pischke-Maxwell, titled Modern Vejigantes features colorful masks of all shapes and sizes. An Opening Reception is scheduled, free and open to the public, for Friday, January 27, 7-10pm.

The vejigante is a folkloric figure whose origins trace back to medieval Spain. The term vejigante derives from the Spanish words vejiga (bladder) and gigante (giant), due to the old custom of blowing up and painting cow bladders. Legend has it that the vejigante represented the infidel Moors who were defeated in a battle led by Saint James. To honor the saint, the people, dressed as demons, took to the street in an annual procession.

Over time, the vejigante became somewhat of a folkloric demon. In Puerto Rico, however, it took on a new dimension with the introduction of African and native Taíno cultural influences. The vejigante costumes are often linked to many festivals that continue today, especially in the cities of Loiza and Ponce in Puerto Rico.

“I am a fiercely proud Puerto Rican,” says Maxwell. “Growing up in the Caribbean, surrounded year-round by my island’s natural resources and beauty, I was constantly inspired to create and to add to it.”

“However, six years ago, I was living a life of excess, making reckless decisions. Literally having to clean up my life’s mess, I found that most of it consisted of cans and bottles. During that cleansing period, I saw that my neighbor had a pinwheel. It was made of aluminum and that really drew my attention. So here I am today—six years of making vejigante masks with aluminum!”

Why modern vejigantes?

Currently, these masks (caretas) are typically made from papier-mâché or coconut husks and even gourds. They sport a colorful and fearsome assortment of horns, fangs and beaks, and are often polka-dotted. Maxwell’s masks, however, are made entirely of recycled aluminum cans, including twisted and spun horns and fangs. He also has developed a way to make these intricate features detachable, making them convenient to package and mail.

“Sadly, this consumerist world of ours is constantly overrun by our waste,” says Maxwell. “By reclaiming wasted materials and fashioning them to inspire upcycling and repurposing, I strive to be original and uniquely innovative. I won’t make art unless it has something to do with upcycling/recycling. I breathe new life into ordinary trash that has passed its original purpose and would otherwise overrun our beautiful planet.”

While most of Maxwell’s exhibited masks range in size, including miniatures that fit in the palm of one’s hand, a few are large enough to be worn on the human body. His exhibit will include ornaments, jewelry, headwear and wall hangings. Most items will be available for purchase.

Maxwell encourages viewers, “Please look at the many objects that are taken for granted and see them in a different light and possibly for a different purpose.”

The Opening Reception with José T. Pischke-Maxwell will take place Friday, January 27, 7:00-10:00pm.  Refreshments will be served.

For those unable to attend the opening reception, the Modern Vejigantes exhibit will be open for public viewing on Tuesdays, February 7, 14, 21, and 28, 4:00-6:00pm, at Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd Street in West Allis.

More information and photos of Maxwell’s art can be viewed at or

Inspiration Studios opened its doors to the West Allis community on March 1, 2014, with the intention of providing varied styles of art and theatre to the broader community, focusing particularly on the emergence of new artists and their works.

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One thought on “José T. Pischke-Maxwell to exhibit “Modern Vejigantes” at Inspiration Studios”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Sounds like a great exhibit, and I’m looking forward to seeing it!

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