Dia de los Muertos is a festival of “welcome” for the souls of the dead, celebrated on November 1 and November 2 each year. The celebration is prepared and enjoyed by the living and honors those who have passed. The customs surrounding this celebration are based on ancient traditions traced to the Aztec civilization in Mexico. Today, there are large Mexican communities across the United States where Dia de los Muertos is widely celebrated.
You might wonder, what does this celebration have to do with a Museum about the American experience? Many Mexican-born people or Latinx people with Mexican heritage now live throughout all 50 United States. There are many Latinx people living in the US with Mexican heritage, so it is widely celebrated across the US and therefore is part of the American experience.
The Rockwell’s Education Department continues to partner with area schools and Spanish teachers throughout the month of October every year. Students from the surrounding region either visit the Museum for a Dia de los Muertos tour or participate in an outreach program, connected to themes of loss and remembrance. As part of the school tour visits and outreach programs, students create projects inspired by artwork in the Museum’s collection and Mexican folk-art traditions. The Rockwell’s program integrates cultural traditions with classroom education and creates an opportunity for students to connect an artistic experience with traditional learning.
In addition to the school tour programming, The Rockwell celebrates Dia de los Muertos with an annual family event every fall. We work with local Mexican folk artists and presenters to share their traditions of ofrenda building, music, dance, sugar skulls, paper flowers and festive foods.
The arts can provide an expressive outlet for people to connect with others and see perspectives through various mediums in which artists often incorporate symbolism. Sharing stories of loved ones and creating art can help us heal and grieve loss, especially with all the loss we have experienced and continue to experience during the pandemic.
Linked below, you’ll find a variety of educational videos, projects and resources by all the community partners we collaborate with each year. Learn, create, participate and explore traditions of Mexican culture. We are proud to collaborate with Spanish educators and Latinx community members to offer high-quality digital resources and share how the Museum collection of American art is influenced by diverse American traditions and experiences.
A collaborative project presented by The Rockwell Museum and The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. ©2011 Jordan Miller
Join Mary Mix, Director of Education, as she explores artworks in The Rockwell collection that connect to themes of loss and remembrance. When we lose someone we love, we find ways to honor and remember them – art is a beautiful way to do that. Take a closer look at Judith Lowry’s triptych, ‘Loves Unbreakable Heaven’ and Diego Romero’s ceramic vessel, ‘Never Forget: Jim Thorpe All American.’
Meet folk artist, Leonel Rosario and learn about the traditions celebrated in Oaxaca, Mexico, a region famous for their culture and food. Learn about the symbolic elements on a Oaxacan ofrenda to welcome the spirits of loved ones, and the customs associated with honoring and remembering people (and animals) in a positive way.
Watch and learn about the traditional Jarabe Mixteco dance performed by folk artists Leonel Rosario and Dolores Alvarado. Leonel is from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico and Dolores is from the neighboring state of Guerrero. Learn about the adorned clothing worn for this dance and the symbolism of the designs and style elements, influenced by the regions in Mexico from which Leonel and Dolores are from.
Porfiria Mijangos explains the elements of a traditional ofrenda for Day of the Dead in her region of Oaxaca, Mexico. Interview and footage are from the Day of the Dead celebration at Orleans YMCA, Medina, New York, November 1 2019. Members of her extended family built the large ofrenda seen here for the annual community-wide event.
Video produced by Karen Canning, Director of GLOW Traditions, a collaborative traditional arts and folklife program in western New York.
Learn how to make your own Mexican-style paper flowers with Gloria Harris, folk artist and Carly Nichols, Support Services Manager at CareFirst. Traditionally vibrant and festive, flowers are used to decorate ofrendas (offerings), graves and spaces where people gather to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. After watching this video, make a flower to remember someone special in your life.
Dinorah Peters of Lowman, NY came to the Southern Tier from Tamaulipas, Mexico in the 1980s. A fabulous cook who began learning how to cook traditional Mexican dishes at the age of eight, Dinorah has been an ambassador for Mexican foodways and the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos in our region for a number of years. In her work with The Rockwell Museum, Dinorah has educated many people to the significance of making sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto at the museum’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. This intimate video shows Dinorah with her daughter and grandson making sugar skulls at home, what it means to her, and who she remembers. Extensive info on making your own sugar skulls can be found at www.mexicansugarskulls.com
Video produced in 2020 by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes
Find more Dia de los Muertos resources and videos:
The Rockwell Museum’s programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.
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