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I have received so many requests for this info that I'm posting
it on the list. If any of you end up creating some ofrendas, I
would definitely like to know about it. If you send me photos,
I'll post them on our web site: http://www.art.unt.edu/ntieva/
We also have more info on the Days of the Dead on our web site.
Look under Art Curriculum, then Latino Art & Culture.
Thanks for your interest.
The Artist Ofrenda
The Days of the Dead, Los Dias de los Muertos, are the most
important annual celebration in Mexico. November 1 and 2 are a
joyful time of remembrance, reunion, and feasting, as families
gather together to honor their loved ones who have died. In the
United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about the Days of
the Dead because of differing cultural attitudes about death,
misinterpretation of the meaning of symbolic object such as
altars, skeletons, and skulls, and the concurrent dates of the
celebration of Halloween. Special toys and food are made in the
shapes of calaveras (skeletons) for this holiday. For Mexicans
the skeleton does not carry the negative meanings promoted by
Hollywood; instead, it both laughs in the face of death and
serves as a reminder that all are equal in death, both rich and
Mexican families participate in the construction and decorations
of ofrendas (home altars) to honor their loved ones. Decorations
may include candles, flowers, incense, papel picado (cut paper
banners, photographs, and offerings of the favorite food and
drink of the deceased. As a class project, ofrendas can be
created to honor a special person, such as an artist, who is no
longer living. Such a secular approach may be helpful to teach
students about the Days of the Dead without focusing too much on
the religious aspects of the celebration. Other types of
memorials could be discussed, such as the Lincoln Memorial, the
Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, and memorials to individuals.
Creating an Ofrenda
First, decide if you want an entire class to create one ofrenda,
or if you want to divide students into smaller groups to each
create an ofrenda. Choose an artist or artists. Any relatively
famous artist will do, but if you want to use Mexican artists,
some to consider are Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Ruffino Tamayo,
David Alfaro Siqueros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Tina Modotti.
Other artists that are fun to do are Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonardo
da Vinci, Grant Wood, Picasso, or Matisse.
Have students research the artist's life, collect items to
include on the ofrenda, and create artworks and written passages
based on the chosen artist. Use a small table for the ofrenda and
cover it with a fabric appropriate for the chosen artist. For
example, a brightly colored oil cloth would make a great table
cover for an ofrenda to Frida Kahlo, but an off-white, sedate
linen might be more appropriate for an ofrenda to Leonardo da
Other Possible Items for the Ofrenda
Again, make choices that express the chosen artist. Flowers,
candles (you don't have to light them), photographs or
self-portraits of the artist, reproductions of the artist's work,
favorite foods, and other items that might be associated with the
artist may be placed on the ofrenda. Ofrendas are often
completely covered with objects, so encourage students to develop
a variety of offerings. Display the completed ofrenda as an
educational exhibit with a written explanation of the project and
a biography of the artist.
Nancy Walkup, Project Coordinator
North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts
PO Box 305100, University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203
940/565-3986 FAX 940/565-4867