Blog: Creating a Day of the Dead Altar - and Memories

Reflections from Della:

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, sometimes needs explanation.  It is 2 days, in which the dead are celebrated.  Plain and simple.  It has many faces and motifs, foods and practices, but overall great care is taken to remember people in our lives who have gone.  

I have always loved the folk art of this holiday; color and whimsy mixed with death.  It is strange.  It is often foreign to us in the United States to find humor in the remembrance of someone we have lost.  To us death is something that is equated with sorrow and sadness.  It is that as well, but to then take that person's memory and smile about it and create an altar that symbolizes that person with their flaws and their strengths is liberating to those sadder feelings.  It can feel both peaceful and silly - and that makes the memories that much stronger.  

For the second year the World’s Window staff decided to create an altar at Mattie Rhodes to celebrate the season.  Plans and drawings were developed and each of us had a part in the process, even if it was just to listen to the ideas and add input.  A memory wall theme was chosen - a place for anyone to add a memory about someone they had lost by selecting a piece of colorful paper, writing out the memory and then adding it to a slot on the wall.  As a group of us gathered at Mattie Rhodes Art Center to put the pieces together, we laughed as we carried in the parts.  Hammers and nails, collaboration and sweat worked out the problems.  We finished after a few hours, filled with pride.  
World's Window Staff Building Day of the Dead Altar at Mattie Rhodes Art Center
As we were working, other families and groups came in to set up their altars in the gallery. Many of the altars were very specific to a person that was to be celebrated.  The family next to us had lost a matriarch within the year. Their emotions still fresh, they worked together with pictures and items to create an altar to tell the story of this wonderful woman.  Arlene, in her true form, asked questions about their mother and bonded almost instantly with this family and their need to celebrate the memory of someone so dear to them.  

I took a piece of paper from our memory wall to the youngest child of this family and asked if he'd like to write a memory of his grandmother.  He took the pen and paper and walked away from the chaos to write his memory.  He came back with his paper in hand and I told him to crumple the piece of paper and add it to the wall.  He did this.  As we left Arlene hugged the family.  We had made friends in this process.  

We all know the pain of loss and we know the way a memory about someone gone can float through our minds and make us smile.  I think that is what this celebration is all about - the smiles.  As we left I took a piece of paper and wrote simply, "babe," and I added it to the wall.   It was what my mom always called me and, when I think of this word, I think of her.  That memory makes me smile.  
World's Window Staff writing memories at Day of the Dead Altar at Mattie Rhodes Art Center
After we finished, we all gathered on the Southwest Boulevard. We sat as a group and enjoyed food, drink and conversation.  I finished off a delicious plate of tacos and a cold beer.  We were on a high of creating something special, something together, something good.  We left that night with a feeling of completion.  It was a special experience to create something together with all it's factions.  I thank the ladies of World's Window for their vision, wisdom, and talents…they are an extraordinary team that has taken a job at a retail store much further than that.