Artisans "Altared" by Day of the Dead

by Marianne Freeman October 28, 2022

Artisans

As an outlander having experienced the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in the heart of Mexico, it is challenging to describe this holiday/celebration/festival with only words. It was and continues to be transcendental, equal to what I describe as a life-changing experience. Not limiting my experience to just the immediate festivities that occur around November 1st and 2nd. More specifically, it is the encounters with the talented artisans and craftspeople who use Dia de Los Muertos as the foundation for their creativity. It's as though the outside world is their canvas and the holiday their paintbrush. In the decade leading up to 2013, I had engaged with, created alongside, and purchased from artisans in Central Mexico. From small villages to major metropolitan cities, I'd met a diversity of people who all embodied an immense sense of pride and artistry in the items they and their families had created. It was not until I was immersed in Dia de Los Muertos that I began to understand facets of the culture, the passion they exude, and the artistry that is the heart and soul of the people of Mexico.

Artisans of Central Mexico

01. Jose Antonio Mejia posing with pride. Alongside a beautiful Virgin Mary sculpture that he carved and painted by hand. Sr. Mejia has a very remarkable approach to wood carving; traditional techniques which allow him to create works of original art of that are distinct and authentic. | 02. A colonial corridor in the city of Morelia Michoacán Mexico, a majestic town where the architecture, streets, buildings are protected by UNESCO. | 03. The indigenous artist Guadalupe Gaudencio. Aside from being wildly talented as a master ceramicist Lupé and her husband are of Purépecha descent. The Purépecha people are highly skilled in a wide manner of trades and art-forms. One of the only indigenous peoples / civilizations to have survived attempted conquests by both the Aztec empire and Spanish colonists. Quite amazing heritage indeed. 

Along with the ex-patriots and vacationers who dare to explore the regions of Mexico located inland from the beautiful coastal areas that Mexico is so well-known for, I found myself exposed to an artistic and soulful people I barely understood. My initial revelation came in 2000 after being invited as a buyer from the U. S. to a bi-annual artisan's exhibition. In attendance, artisans from many areas of central and southern Mexico. These creators were skilled in diverse artistic endeavors. Woodcarvers, furniture makers, glass-blowers, metal workers, jewelry crafters, and many types of ceramic artists were omnipresent. But the medium that captured my curiosity the most was the finely crafted and detailed Catina dolls originating predominantly from a tiny town in the state of Michoacán. Still, trying to figure out what a Catrina is or who created it? For a further description of what a Catrina is, read our blog post The Birth of La Catrina, or just visit Wikipedia. 

As is the nature of any art form or media, there is a wide range of talent. Still, these skeletal figures were so finely detailed that they were fragile to the touch, holding slim cigarettes, wearing broad-brimmed victorian hats, feather boas, and holding lavish, tiny purses. Initially, the skeletal figure caught me off-guard. I found them artistically exquisite but quite morbid and deathly. Like many Northern Americans or gringos, I still lacked the ability to understand a culture that I was so unfamiliar with. While fleeting and brief, this initial reaction compelled me to learn more about this art form. I came to understand that Dia de Los Muertos is far more than a morbid, funerary event. It is a celebration of the spirit and souls of those who have passed on. It is an action to honor and invite them back into our lives for a short time every year on November 1st and 2nd. The primary events occur in the cemeteries, but it is not remotely similar to our Memorial Day in the United States. The graveyards come alive with candles at night, literally tons of fresh marigolds, food, music, families, and friends that were a part of the life of the departed souls. 

Mexican Catrina Artists, Day of the Dead folkart

01. Folkart Catrina artist Marco Perez. This award-winning artist has been sculpting, firing, and delicately painting these ornate figures since the age of 12. | 02. - 03. Inside the artists studio. Last year we were invited into Sr Perez's ceramic studio to view a few original sculptures he was working on. Commissioned by patrons from around the world. View a few of his works in our Catrina Eleganté Collection.

Traveling throughout Mexico, it is now common to see "La Catrina" somewhere in every small town and large city at any time throughout the year. Over the past century, the character of "La Catrina" has become an icon of "Day of the Dead" in Mexico. She has become an art form all of her own, representing the spirit and soul of Mexico.





Marianne Freeman
Marianne Freeman

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