RECAP: El Día de Muertos for Schools and Community


On November 1st and 2nd, the Brooks invited local schools and the community to celebrate the Mexican holiday of El Día de Muertos with Mariachi, Catrinas, Aztec dancers, face painting, and a lot of art.

As a theme of this year’s celebration, visitors made art and participated in activities inspired by the traditional folk art form of Calaveritas de azúcar, or Sugar Skulls. Traditional sugar skulls are quite labor intensive. They are made in small batches by expert candy makers using boiled sugar and clay break-away molds. Skull makers typically work 4-6 months to create enough sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead celebrations! After skulls are cast and cooled, they are colorfully decorated with icing, pieces of bright foil, colored sugars, and other adornments. Mounds of colorful skulls are sold in outdoor village markets.

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Sugar skulls usually bear the name of the deceased loved one being honored. During the holiday, spirits of the dead are welcomed back to their homes with beautifully decorated ofrendas (altars). Sugar skulls are placed on gravestones and family ofrendas to honor the return of a particular spirit, along with other items such as marigolds, candles, incense and special foods. Sugar skulls are also given as gifts, although even though they are made of sugar, they are decorative and not meant to be eaten.

Visitors to the Brooks Día de Muertos celebration also made paper skull masks and/or had their faces painted in the style of a Calaverita de azúcar!

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Fellows from Rhodes College helped out a lot with our Día de los Muertos program this year. As organizer Annie Herman explained in a recent post, Rhodes CODA commandeered Brooks’ social media on Saturday, inspiring visitors to photograph the event and tag the results with #BrooksDia, #CODARhodes on Instagram and Twitter.

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Other Rhodes fellows hosted Spanish storytelling in the galleries.  Annie Hohlt and Jourdaen Sanchez read El espíritu de tío Fernando / The Spirit of Tio Fernando: A Day of the Dead Story and Yo Recuerdo a Abuelito: Un Cuento del Día de los Muertos / I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story. Both stories were read in Spanish, for pre-school-grade level children, and both told how children prepare for the remembrance of their family members during Day of the Dead.

And it would be bereft not to mention the printmaking demonstration by Memphis College of Art alum Vanessa Gonzalez. During the schools’ day, she gave a printmaking demonstration in the rotunda. She cuts linoleum to make her relief prints, an arduous process, and it was neat to see her chip away at a large block throughout the day.

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