Back when I was working at the local arts council, my boss was a huge fan of Frida Kahlo. You couldn’t help but notice it when you walked into our office, which was littered with cut-outs of Frida and her artwork, mixed in with pieces done by my artist boss-lady. When I first started working there Frida was a footnote in my mental map, someone I’d read about briefly while doing an art history report focused on Diego Rivera. My boss’s love for Frida couldn’t help but rub off, interesting bits, here and there, sticking to me. By the time I left the place I knew a fair bit about Ms.Kahlo, her artwork and by extension the folk art of Mexico.
|L.J. Gould, Devil’s Apricot|
Working at the arts council was also my first real exposure to the Day of the Dead. One of the things we did to help support local artists was host group shows spread throughout the year, where members submitted pieces to, hopefully, sell during the show. For several years running, we held a show each Fall where the theme was Dia de Los Muertos; skeletons, sugar skulls and homages to Frida abounded. In the weeks leading up to the first Dia de Los Muertos show, I remember taking books out from the library and reading about how the festival is celebrated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd, with beautiful altars and offerings for the beloved dead.
I even tried my own hand at creating some Day of the Dead themed art. I still have these attempts at sugar skulls painted on glass kicking around the house. I drag them out each October and hang them on the wall.
At the time, first reading and learning about Dia de Los Muertos I was intrigued by the holiday, but it didn’t impact me emotionally. I understood, clinically, how it was meant as a way to celebrate and honour those that have passed on. Now, having lost people that are close to me, the concept of Dia de Los Muertos strikes a deep chord within me. I understand it on an emotional level, this festival which honours the dead not with a time of grieving but rather a celebration of life
I’ve always thought that visiting Mexico during Dia de Los Muertos would be an incredible experience. Last year when I travelled to Puerto Vallarta I was surprised and delighted to find Day of the Dead themed art here, there and everywhere. I hadn’t expected to see any, as I thought it would only be a seasonal thing that would pop up in time for the holiday. I’m sure the year round displays of calacas and calaveras were meant to appeal to tourists like myself. Still, it was lovely, the things I saw were wonderfully made, and filled me with a sense of joy.
Wandering through old downtown Puerto Vallarta we happened upon a beautiful boutique hotel and decided to explore inside. The front desk clerk told us that much of the look and artwork was inspired by Frida. You couldn’t help but notice the life-sized catrina and her skeletal dog which greeted visitors at the front door. Inside we discovered the walls were plastered with vibrant murals and bits of art hanging here and there, like these Day of the Dead themed plaques which hung in the lobby.
|Photo credit: Tales of a Ranting Ginger|
When shopping in the Municipal Market in downtown Puerto Vallarta I happened upon many examples of Dia de Los Muertos themed art; little shadow boxes, cups and bowls, and this quirky plate which I brought back for my sister.
Walking along the Malecon boardwalk I happened upon a storefront window full of gorgeous skeletal figurines, and another storefront with a false balcony on the second floor, displaying oversized statues.
A few blocks away from the Malecon I discovered this delightful store completely filled with gorgeous handmade statues. As I browsed around the artist sat at a bench in the back of the store, shaping another skeletal figure. One of my few regrets from this trip is that I didn’t buy one of these lovelies to bring home with me.
What about you? Are you as intrigued by the Day of the Dead festivals as I am? Would you plan a trip to Mexico to coincide with Dia de Los Muertos?