Mulvane brings Day of the Dead to life

Kate Arroyo

Washburn’s Mulvane Art Lab started their celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with a Family Day activity on Saturday, Oct 23.  The Art Lab was open to the public for a free activity that included demonstrations on making traditional decorations for Day of the Dead, which is a holiday celebrated in Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2.

The Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrating loved ones who have passed away.  It is believed their spirits return one day of the year to be with their families.  All Saint’s Day, Nov. 1, is when the spirits of children return and All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2, is when adult spirits return. Families and communities have a variety of ways in which they celebrate this holiday and honor their dead.

Many towns have parades and outdoor festivals during this holiday, with performers dressed in skeleton costumes and masks.  Bakeries and vendors sell cookies and candies shaped like bones, skeletons and skulls. Making and decorating sugar skulls is a common activity in many homes. Besides enjoying these treats for themselves, people will leave them as offerings for the spirits of their loved ones at altars decorated with favorite foods and articles of the deceased.

A favorite decoration is papel picado, which literally means ‘punched’ or ‘perforated’ paper.  Brightly colored banners of delicate tissue paper are hung everywhere during Day of the Dead.  Creating cut paper art is an ancient tradition that originated in China with the invention of paper in the year 105.  Over the centuries it spread to Japan, Central Asia, and with the Moorish occupation of Spain from 714 to 1492, the art found its way into Europe.  The conquering Spaniard’s brought this to the Americas as well as the Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Souls Day.

The Aztecs had already developed their own paper from tree bark pulp and had a tradition of paper cut images as part of their religious ceremonies. Eventually, as in many countries, the native beliefs and practices merged with Catholicism and its holidays.  Papel picado is a folk art tradition that has remained part of these celebrations for centuries.

The Mulvane Art Lab is keeping this tradition alive in our community by offering an opportunity to  make your own papel picado banners and other decorations.  Two visitors to the Family Day event were Jennifer and Gustavo Ibarra, who spent several hours patiently creating beautiful and imaginative decorations to display in their home for the Day of the Dead holiday.  Jennifer, a sixth-grade student “you make a big celebration for your family and relatives that have already passed,” Jennifer said. Jennifer and Gustavo made papel picado banners, ofrendos (small altar-like decorations), paper flowers and other decorations during their afternoon at the Art Lab. The Mulvane Art Lab will continue to offer Day of the Dead decoration making through the end of October.