Dayton’s Dia de los Muertos celebration is this Sunday, October 29. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican Holiday that has its roots in Aztec rituals that honored the dead. Today, it’s celebrated in countries around the globe. Here in Dayton, there’s a parade, Mexican songs and dancing, and lots of altars designed to lead the spirits of lost loved ones back home.
It promises to be a good time for both the dead and the living.
You never know what you’ll see at the Day of Dead, but a few things are certain. There will dancing skeletons and women in beautiful Mexican dresses who have their faces painted to look like detailed, decorative skulls. Every year, the Dia de los Muertos parade works its way from the Oregon District to the Missing Peace Art Space, a gallery in Saint Anne’s Hill that displays dozens of altars made by community members.
Gabriela Pickett owns the gallery. She was born in Mexico and grew up with the holiday, but when a local artist approached her about celebrating in Dayton, she wasn’t quite sure.
“I was a little skeptical at the beginning,” Pickett says, “because there’s not a lot of Hispanics who celebrate day of the Day of the Dead in Dayton, so who’s going to go? And 300 people showed up. So, we were quite surprised. Not a lot of them were Hispanic, which make it really beautiful. This is a Mexican tradition that brings the community together.”
To celebrate the day of the dead, people make altars—or ofrendas—for loved ones who have died. Pickett made one for her father this year. It’s a small model of a Mexican home with a tile roof. It’s made of and filled with his favorite things.
“My dad was an architect,” she says. “And he made houses made out of adobe and the traditional Spanish tiles. He was a violin player, so there’s two violins and music, because he liked to play Vivaldi. He was an artist, so there’s pencils for him to draw with. This is the food he liked to eat.”
M.B. Hopkins is the local artist who approached Gabriela Pickett about starting a Dayton Day of the Dead. This year, Hopkins, made an altar inside of a cigar box. There are three shiny skeletons inside. One playing a guitar. One smoking a cigarette. Those two are humans. There’s also the skeleton of a cat.
“This is an altar for my mother and father, who have both passed away. My dad was a guitar player, so he’s depicted here as a skeleton holding a guitar. My mother was a chain smoker, and it’s not the best habit, and maybe it lent to her demise,” Hopkins says. “There’s also a little cat that was hers that’s also passed away.”
The top of box has her parents’ names on it. They went by Patti and Hop.
“They were married for dozens and dozen of years,” she says. “In fact, my father died before my mother, and when my mother was in hospice, one of the last things she said was ‘Hop, Hop!’ As if she could see him. Then she stopped breathing and died.”
And there’s not just art for the dead. Sometimes, there’s art made with the dead. Literally. Local artist Tiffany Clark is best known for the murals she’s painted on buildings across the Miami Valley. When the man she described as her “soulmate” passed away, she ended up using his cremains in a painting that was displayed for the Day of the Dead.
“He had always wanted his ashes made into art work, so he could last forever,” Clark explains. “It took me a while to figure out what kind of artwork or to actually make myself do it. I made him into a beautiful oil painting that was a Rhino from an unusual perspective with teals and different circles that resembled similar art work that he had made. And it was just this sense of not closure, but continuation. I could share him forever with people. Because honestly, I was not okay until I figure out a way to connect with him in a positive way, and this is my positive way.”
And the Day of the Dead is meant to be a celebration of life and an opportunity to honor our ancestors. One of the original ideas of the holiday is that if a dead person came back, they would be offended to see us mourning. They’d much prefer a party, and a Mariachi band wouldn’t hurt.
This year’s Day of the Dead festivities start off with food carts and face painting at the Old Yellow Cab building at 2PM on October 29. That will be followed by a parade to the Missing Piece Art Space, where guests can watch performances and view ofrendas.