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Polymer Clay Polyzine

Copyright 2000-2004
Raleigh, NC
ISSN 1534-1038
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Día de Los Muertos:
Nora Jean Gatine Honors This Festive Mexican Holiday

All photographs and photo text by Nora Jean Gatine with research information by Jeannie Havel.
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“What Do Mexicans Celebrate On The Day Of The Dead?” According to Ricardo J. Salvador, Associate Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University, Día de Los Muertos “is an ancient festivity that has been much transformed through the years, but which was intended in prehispanic Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. The best way to describe this Mexican holiday,” continues Salvador, “is to say that it is a time when Mexican families remember their dead, and the continuity of life.” Salvador notes two important aspects of the festival:

  1. It is a holiday with a complex history, and therefore its observance varies quite a bit by region and by degree of urbanization.
  2. It is not a morbid occasion, but rather a festive time.

“The original celebration,” Salvador writes, “can be traced to many Mesoamerican native traditions, such as the festivities held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli, ritually presided by the "Lady of the Dead" (Mictecacihuatl), and dedicated to children and the dead. In the Aztec calendar, this ritual fell roughly at the end of the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the post-conquest era it was moved by Spanish priests so that it coincided with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve (in Spanish: "Día de Todos Santos. The result is that Mexicans now celebrate the day of the dead during the first two days of November, rather than at the beginning of summer. But,” Salvador reminds us, “remember the dead they still do, and the modern festivity is characterized by the traditional Mexican blend of ancient aboriginal and introduced Christian features.”

Salvador further explains in his article “broadly, the holiday's activities consist of families (1) welcoming their dead back into their homes, and (2) visiting the graves of their close kin. At the cemetery, family members engage in sprucing up the gravesite, decorating it with flowers, setting out and enjoying a picnic, and interacting socially with other family and community members who gather there. Families remember the departed by telling stories about them. The meals prepared for these picnics are sumptuous, usually featuring meat dishes in spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread ("pan de muerto," or bread of the dead). Gravesites and family altars are profusely decorated with flowers and adorned with religious amulets and with offerings of food, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. Because of this warm social environment, the colorful setting, and the abundance of food, drink and good company, this commemoration of the dead has pleasant overtones for the observers, whose festive interaction with both the living and the dead in an important social ritual is a way of recognizing the cycle of life and death that is human existence.”

Day of the Dead is one of Nora Jean Gatine's favorite subjects with clay. Here are various Day of the Dead efforts she's made since 1998 when she started "goofing around with polymer clay and miniatures."

My Mini Ofrenda on my Monitor
The 2003 Day of the Dead, Dias de los Muertos, Group Shot.
It fits on top of my computer monitor.
[Click on image for close up]

Dia de Los Muertos Ofrenda 3

DeniseS/Moderator of MSATClayArt made the old woman on the left. Under the clay is a vanilla bottle so the old woman's head twists off. With that fact and the banana in the bowl she is a perfect addition to my DOD collection.

[Click on image for close up]

Dia de Los Muertos Ofrenda 4

The skeleton figures are my contribution to the Halloween Wreath that the MSATClayArt worked on. The hinged egg on the lower left is one of the first things I did for Day of the Dead back in 1998. White Sculpey wasn't strong enough for the hinge.                              [Click on image for close up]

Dia de Los Muertos Ofrenda 5
Rex the famous and still dead wonderdog and the painting made with chalk dust and Future Floor polish are some of the oldest DOD mini clay items. The point being? If you clay from the heart, do what you love, no matter how rough the technique, they will always give you pleasure.

[Click on image for close up]

Dia de Los Muertos Ofrenda 6

The inch worm on the Skull Egg makes me laugh. For we are but worm food in the end after all. It's comically morbid. But that's part of the Day of the Dead: humor, death, life. It's all entwined.

[Click on image for close up]

Go to Page Two
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, R. J. (2003). What Do Mexicans Celebrate On The Day Of The Dead? Pp. 75-76, IN Death And Bereavement In The Americas. Death, Value And Meaning Series, Vol. II. Morgan, J. D. And P. Laungani (Eds.) Baywood Publishing Co., Amityville, New York.