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Gualala Arts

Promoting public interest and participation in the arts since 1961.

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Local Eyes presents:
Día de los Muertos
(Day of the Dead)

Sunday, November 2, 2008
3:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Gualala Arts Center
Día de los Muertos


sugar skulls A sugar skull, delicately decorated with swirls of floral icing, and best of all, your name piped in ribbony script over the calavera's candy eyes - this is the sweetest, simplest metaphor for the traditional Mexican celebration, Día de los Muertos, known here in el norte as "Day of the Dead."

Gualala Arts will honor the dear departed - and the future departed (that's all of us) - in an afternoon of music and classic south-of-the-border treats. Admission is free.

Join us for an afternoon of strolling mariachis in their finery, with local dancers bringing the spirit of Mexico to Gualala between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. on our main stage.

Enjoy traditional Mexican foods (deep, dark mole, tamales, tacos, Pan de Muerte or "Bread of the Dead," horchata rice beverage).

Just to let the dead know what they're missing, we'll also taste fine tequilas and pour Mexico's famous beers, as well as local brews.

¡En Calavera!

Gualala Arts Center's First
Celebrates Life

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a tradition which is unique to Mexico. While its timing in the solar year corresponds roughly with Hallowe'en, the holiday known as Day of the Dead has its roots in the vibrant culture of ancestral Mexico, which flourished long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and Catholic missionaries.

Today, Day of the Dead, complete with elaborately iced sugar calaveras (skulls) and candle-lit ofrendas (altars), fragrant with yellow marigolds, is a phenomenon in many major American cities, especially those with a large Latino population. This year, on Sunday November 2, between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m., the Gualala Arts Center will present the area's first Día de los Muertos celebration, in partnership with the Gualala-based family resource center, Action Network. The non-profit Action Network is the only facility of its kind on the Redwood Coast, nurturing our community with services including counseling, training and mentoring.

"Day of the Dead is now becoming one of the most popular holidays in the USA," comments Javier Chavez, Bilingual Bicultural Family Advocate for Action Network. "There is an appeal here which just crosses right over the culture-line. People who are not Latino, who speak no Spanish, really relate to the experience. I think this is because it's an integration of life and death - it's about family togetherness, and honoring who we are. This eases the grief of losing someone we care for, and takes away the fear."

In many places throughout the Americas, and wherever the Roman Catholic church introduced the observation of All Soul's Day and All Saints' Day, autumnal and harvest-time rituals honoring the departed are deeply rooted in history. In fact, many ethnographers, cultural anthropologists and other scholars theorize that the tradition of commemorating the dead during this time of year pre-dates Christianity.

In cultures ranging from the Aztecas of Mexico to the Celts of Western Europe, many ancient civilizations shared the belief that the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the departed became permeable during the period between the Autumnal Equinox (September 22) and the Winter Solstice (December 21), allowing crossover and contact between the living and the dead. This belief is reflected quite specifically in the early Roman Catholic belief that on All Soul's Day, the day before All Hallows' Day (also called All Saints' Day), souls were released from Purgatory and allowed to walk the earth once again. The word "Hallowe'en" is derived from the words "All Hallows' Eve," and the customs of masks, pranks and sweet offerings in the form of trick-or-treating the night before All Saints' Day are all echoes of those beliefs.

Catrinas, one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico
Catrinas, one of the most popular figures of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico.
photo credit: Wikipedia
The Mexican expression of these ideas is far more jolly than creepy. In many places throughout Mexico today, such as Pátzcuaro and the island of Janitzio in the state of Michoacán and Mixquic in Districto Federale/D.F. (Mexico City), graveyards are not a place of terror, but of relaxed family outings. Large groups spend the night by candlelight, reminiscing, singing, praying and feasting on home-made tamales and other specialties which were favorites of the departed. Ofrendas covered with cherished family mementos are lovingly created in both private homes and public spaces.

The most instantly recognizable icon for the holiday is called "La Catrina," meaning the high society-lady, as depicted by Mexican master illustrator and engraver Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). The elegantly clad Catrina, grinning from beneath her huge, plumed hat, has further been immortalized by generations of later Mexican artists, including Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

Posada's sharp socio-political commentary - that even wealth, prestige and privilege are no protection against La Muerte (Death) - is even sweetly present in the sugar skulls which are sold in many Mexican and Mexican-American communities today. Often, these skulls are as delicately decorated as wedding cakes, inscribed in flowery icing script with an individual's name. For those in a hurry, it's possible to purchase a calavera iced with a more generic holiday message: "Somos iguales." It means, simply, "We are equals."

Day of the Dead
Call for Shrines and Altars

Gualala Arts Center will host an exhibit of altars and shrines from October 27 to November 3, as part of the Día de los Muertos celebration. You can participate in this Day of the Dead festival by sharing your own personal shrine/altar with the community, or by creating a new work of art. The exhibits are not juried and are open to all, regardless of age or calling. Groups may want to collaborate in the creation of a special shrine/altar. The medium you choose can be as open as your imagination and may be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Since the purpose of a shrine/altar is remembrance, feel free to explore this theme in any way that speaks to you.

To participate in the exhibit, download the registration form. It is due by Saturday, October 25. There are a couple display options you might want to consider:

Create a shrine/altar to be installed and displayed outside, along the Gualala Arts Center Loop Trail. The artist is responsible for the installation (with consultation from the curators). The trail environment must not be disturbed in the installation or take-down of the shrine/altar.

Alternatively, you may submit a shrine/altar for display inside the Arts Center (in the Coleman Auditorium). This artwork may be either 2 or 3 dimensional, based on any theme related to Day of the Dead.

Día de los Muertos
(Day of the Dead)

Burnett Gallery
November 2008

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
November 2008

The Gualala Arts Center, located at 46501 Old State Highway in Gualala, CA,
is open weekdays 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and weekends from noon to 4:00 p.m.
Please call (707) 884-1138 for more information, or email

Serving the coastal communities of northern Sonoma & southern Mendocino Counties.