Public installations of folk art take many forms in Mexico. As I’ve said before, folk art is handmade, it is regional, it’s made of material available in one’s community, the methods are passed down from generation to generation and it expresses a community belief or value.
Here a simple bouquet of cockscomb attached to a traffic light in the middle of downtown Puebla not only provides passersby with a dab of beauty, but reminds everyone who passes, that a life was taken at this location. Someone died here. It raises our awareness that death is out there. In Mexico, death is not shoved into the back room. Death is a part of life and the Days of the Dead are a time to remember, both privately and publicly, those loved ones who have died.
Someone else died here.
One sees bouquets and shrines built along the roads and highways of Mexico all year long. But during these special days of November 1 and 2, spontaneous eruptions of bouquets of marigolds and cockscomb appear in the cities and pueblos, reminding all of us that we are a mortal people and that life goes on after death.
Are you unsure about how to build an ofrenda for the upcoming Days of the Dead? Here are a couple of examples from one of my trips to Mexico during Dia de los Muertos. Every ofrenda is unique and personal so don’t worry about whether you are doing it correctly or not. The main idea is to make an inviting altar that will entice the spirits of your departed loved ones to return to enjoy a few hours with you over November 1 and 2. Mexicans believe the smells of the flowers, food and copal incense are especially enticing. And the color of orange and magenta is traditional throughout Mexico. So here are a few ideas of what to include:
1. Marigolds: the color and smell of marigolds is believed to attract the spirits. But if you live in a northern climate, like I do, the marigolds are long gone! You can substitute yellow/gold mums or the magenta colored brain flower (if you can find it!). In the shop, I use lots of artificial marigolds that I collect at thrift shops over the year.
2. Candles: Whatever candles you have will suffice. I like to put out the Lux candles with the image of the Virgin on them because they color combination is so inviting. I also purchase the super long ivory colored candles in the Mexican market whenever I can so I carry those in the shop. I use them during my presentations about Dia de los Muertos 101 to give a little taste of the feeling in the cemetery on those special nights of November 1 & 2.
3. Papel picado: “Picked” paper or the cutout paper flags are found at all Mexican fiestas. The papel picado for Muertos usually has images of the catrina or skulls or says, “Dia de los Muertos” on it. It comes in multiple colors and multiple sizes. We carry it at the shop.
4. Sugar skulls: These are fabulous folk art pieces sold in the sugar markets that pop up about now in towns all over Mexico. Toluca has one of the largest and most famous but many cities have them and one can find lots of charming, unique, beautiful skulls made out of sugar. You can have the name of your loved one written across the forehead or not. I carry gorgeous sugar skulls made by a Mexican-American woman in the Twin Cities because they are so fragile and hard to get home in one piece.
5. Photos and favorite objects: Ofrendas include photographs of the deceased which in conjunction with the smells and colors of the flowers, candles and incense help the spirits determine where they should go to reunite and commune with their relatives. Many people also include the favorite foods or beverages of the departed. For children, a favorite toy may be placed on the altar.
I hope you enjoy building your own unique ofrenda to remember and honor your loved ones who have passed away. If you have any questions, just let me know! Click on any of the photos to take you to our online shop or stop in at 826 West 50th in Minneapolis.
The leaves are turning in Minnesota, the yellow mums and purple asters are blooming, the weather is getting cooler, and the wind is whisking in a new season. In Mexico the month of October is a time to begin preparations to entice the departed spirits to return for a brief visit during Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. It’s a time to start thinking about the home altar, made by many Mexican families, to honor and remember the dead. It’s a time to start preparing the special foods, making the sugar skulls, conceiving of and creating the marigold decorations for the gravesite and the ofrenda, and for the candlemakers to make the gorgeous candles that will decorate the cemetery and the home. It’s both a private time and a public time.
Someone once likened Dia de los Muertos to a combination of Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. November 1 and 2 are a public acknowledgement of the important people in our lives who have passed on much like what we do for Memorial Day. And it’s similar to Thanksgiving in that families prepare traditional foods and follow familiar rituals like so many American families do for Thanksgiving. The traditional colors of yellow and purple are always associated with Muertos in Mexico and the smells of the flowers and the burning copal cannot be mistaken for any other time of the year. It’s a very spiritual time–derived from the ancient rituals of the Aztec mixed with some of the teachings of the Catholic church–a time when people express their love for those who’ve died through storytelling and building ofrendas or altars.
So, what about the folk art? Lots of skeletons, large and small, made of a variety of media, skulls made of everything including sugar and lots of embellishments like papel picado, candles, and flowers. The folk art is used to decorate the ofrendas and to remind everyone that death is part of life. It also can provide a little humor. We are thrilled to have a lovely rotating ofrenda in the front window created by a local artist, Liz Pangerl of Casa Valencia, LLC which incorporates many of the traditional Day of the Dead motifs and items. Stop in!
Some of these things are in the online shop and some are not. Click on the photo to take you to the online shop.
Let me know if you’re interested in a price or purchasing something via this handy form….Happy Dia de los Muertos!
These lovely dancing ladies come from Michoacan, Mexico and are made of paper mache. I continue to be totally in awe of what Mexican artisans can do with paper and paper mache. They stand on their own, holding their skirts as they anticipate swirling. Remember? Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons do everything in the afterlife that they did while living. And they always do it with a smile. The colors of their dresses are lovely too–orange and blue, purple, pink and teal and pink with purple. $40 each.
You know that skeletons do everything that living people do, right? Well, they even get married! And more and more people want to include skeletons (especially smiling, happy skeletons) in their wedding plans. This happy couple would love to stand on top of a cake or on the head table at any wedding but especially those with a Mexican theme or a Day of the Dead theme. (Yes, people do that.)
Just look at the detail on these exquisite paper mache brides and grooms. The veil, the necklace, the soft green edging to her dress. And they even stand up on their own…the first couple is available, right here.
The second bride is also lovely and she’s available here.
Saturday, February 25 will be the last day at GUILD Collective for Zinnia Folk Arts!
We are moving to our new space at 826 West 50th in Minneapolis and hope to open in late April or early May, 2012.
GUILD Collective will be having a Red Tag sale throughout the store from Wed, February 22 through Saturday, February 25 and ALL Zinnia Folk Arts will be 20% off. A few things will be marked down even more…
What will be included? Day of the Dead folk art, some Guatemalan saints, some ceramics, some Frida Kahlo things, glassware, and a few random things that are “last ones.”
If you’re wondering whether something will be marked down, just ask on the handy form below!
I’m sure all of you know that many Mexicans believe the souls of the dead return once a year to visit the living. The beautiful rituals around “Muertos” or Day of the Dead are limited to that period of the year from mid October through the first two days of early November. But the images of skeletons, the availability of folk art from that period of time and prominence of the thinking–the dead are with us–can be seen at any time of the year.
Photos taken in Coyoacan, Mexico City, outside of the Museum of Cultural Arts.