Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day of the Dead

The day of the dead is a 3000 year old celebration that takes place in Mexico on November first and second. Grace Kurth offered a creative workshop in the design and art theory room at Full Sail. Participants were invited to bring...
1. A box: cigar, wine, wooden crate or any wooden or cardboard box.
2. A photograph of a loved one you wish to honor. It could be a family member, friend, special person, or a pet.
3. Mementos: tokens representative of their favorite, hobbies, music, teams, foods, movies, special trinkets, labels of their favorite drinks,
4. Glitter, beads, fabrics, buttons, any type of embellishment you might want to add.
5. Paints, markers, color pencils to paint the skulls. Glues and any hardware you might need.
6. Optional items: candles, marigolds, sunflowers, empty bottle, shawl, cloth, or other items.
I brought my usual bag of art supplies and my curiosity.

The day of the dead is not a dark macabre celebration. In Mexican culture death is considered a transitional phase not horrific or scary. It intends to celebrate the people who came before us. La Katrina born in 1913 drew cartoons which showed skeletons adorned in the trappings of wealth. The image showed that no matter how wealthy you are you will go through the phase of death. Dandy skeletons both male and female are popular images.

Grace took a trip to Janitzio, a small island where the day of the dead is celebrated. As evening fell a long line of people with candles walked up to the highest point on the island. There they built alters called ofrenda which celebrated the life of a loved one. Marigolds which represent regeneration were garlanded and used everywhere as decorations. Skulls of sugar called Calacas were ornately decorated to remind us that life is a delicious sweet indulgence. "Just when the caterpillar thought it was over, it became a butterfly." Grace quoted.

Tom Buzbee brought in many photos and documents to commemorate his Papa. His father was a diplomat with a long square beard. Bananas were perched on the center rise of the ofrenda. Tom explained that when his father was sick in his final days he took to hoarding fruit in his room. Whenever he left the room there would be a scavenger hunt to find the hidden fruit. A small raisin was found years later that was once an apple. The smell of ripe bananas brought back vivid memories. Two of his daughters helped him make the altar. Libby was hot gluing long white whiskers onto the jaw of a skeleton, a stunning tribute to her grandfather's whiskers. Avaryl had exotic skeletal tattoos on her chest and arms, a living celebration in the day of the dead tradition. She was busy decorating tiny skulls in bright colors. The room buzzed with creativity and stories of lives worth honoring.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Verbose said...

I hate to be the sort of person who does this, but Dia de los Muertos isn't specific to "Mexican" culture. It is actually celebrated throughout the Latin American countries. In El Salvador, people went to the cemetaries the night of All Saints Day and lit candles and left flowers, bringing the favourite food of their dead relatives. I like to think of it as way of acknowledging that even though their bodies are dead, their tastebuds aren't and they'll be offended if you forget that on November 2nd.
All in all, sounds like it was a fun activity :)

Grace said...

Actually, Day of the Dead originated in what is now Mexico . It was originated by the Aztec Indians 3,000 years ago.

In 1521 the Spanish Conquistadors entered Tenochitlan now modern day Mexico City.

When they learned of the custom, they forbade it. But the traditions prevailed.

In the last 500 years it has been amalgamated with Catholicism.

Thru the course of time it has spread to other regions of Central and parts of South America.

BUT, it is still very much a National holiday throughout all of Mexico.

In my entire life my family has celebrated it every year.

I have even celebrated it in different regions of Mexico including Janitzio.

Grace said...

Actually Day of the Dead or, otherwise known as Día de los Muertos, originated in Mexico 3,000 years ago.

The Aztec Indians originated the custom.

The underworld where the bones of the departed went to rest was known as Michlán.

The Spanish Conquistadores arrived in Tenochitlan (Modern Day Mexico City) in 1521.

They forbade the custom. But the tradition prevailed.

In the past 500 years it has been amalgamated with Catholicism.

There are regions that celebrate it in Central and South America.

But, in Mexico it is a National Holiday. It has been continuously celebrated for the past 3,000 years.

All of my life, my paternal and maternal families have celebrated it.

I myself have celebrated throughout many regions in Mexico including Janitzio.

It is treated as an homage to the loved ones who came before us.
This year, I had three people that I paid homage to:
My mother, father, and husband.

Verbose said...

Yes, it was originated by the Aztecs who spread it throughout Latin American countries over 3000 years and was amalgamated in Catholicism after the Conquistadors in order to preserve the tradition.

But to say that Dia de los Muertos is Mexican is like saying that Christmas is Israeli OR if you want to get more technical and say that the actual day in which the 3 wise men visited Jesus and started the whole gift giving thing doesn't have a specific day i.e. December 25th and was in fact a Roman holiday marking the winter solstice, then we can easily state that Christmas is Roman.

What I'm saying is that the holiday has dispersed and belongs to more than one country. To single it out as pertaining to one is pigeon-holing.