Thursday, October 19, 2017

Day of the Dead #6: The Legend of the Cempasúchil Flower


Frida in Cempasúchils
One of the most important symbols of the Day of the Dead ceremony is the abundance of brilliant orange flowers ... cempasúchil or marigolds.

The color and smell are intended to guide the path of the ancestors to their altars. The fragility of flowers is also a symbol of life. 
On my journey to find out more about this ceremony, I met Lorena at La Bella Vida (see below) and she told me about the legend behind the flowers.

 Once upon a time ..

there were two young Aztecs, Xóchitl and Huitzilin, who were friends as children and lovers when they grew up. One of their favorite activities was hiking to the top of a near mountain where they would offer flowers to the Sun god TonatiuhThe god seemed to appreciate their offering and would smile from the sky with his warm rays. 

On a particularly beautiful day at the top of the mountain, they swore their love would last forever. However, war broke out and the lovers were separated as Huitzilin went off to fight. Soon the news came that death had separated the lovers and Xóchitl’s heart was broken and her world shattered into pieces.

She decided to walk one last time to the top of the mountain and implore the sun god  Tonatiuh, to somehow join her with her love Huitzilin. The sun, moved by her prayers, threw a ray that gently touched the young girl’s cheek. Instantly she turned into a beautiful flower of fiery colors as intense as the rays of the sun. 
Huitzilin, the hummingbird
Suddenly a hummingbird buzzed around the beautiful flower and lovingly touched its center with its beak.It was Huitzilin that was reborn as a handsome hummingbird. The flower gently opened its 20 petals, filling the air with a mysterious and lovely scent.

The sun god had granted them eternal togetherness as long as cempasúchil (marigolds) flowers and hummingbirds existed on earth. Thus, the cempasúchil came to be the Day of the Dead flower.

For what it's worth ...

Chickens and egg yolks in Mexico are both a rich, yellow-orange. Why? They feed them marigolds, not only for the color, but because marigolds are rich in antioxidants.

Source: The legend of the Day of the Dead lovers comes from Inside Mexico.
Special thanks to Lorena at La Bella Vista (Constitucion #6, Ajijic) for telling me about the lover's story of the marigold and the hummingbird.  La Bella Vista is a lovely gift store and offers a good variety of Day of the Dead items and arts and crafts from around the world. They will be open on November 2nd. They will have an altar and offer talks and snacks about the day around 4pm.
Day of the Dead items at La Bella Vida

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Day of the Dead #5: 3 quick overview videos

Three short videos about Day of the Dead. People throughout the world have different customs for honoring their dead. In Spanish-speaking countries, the primary celebration is Dia de los Muertos, celebrated November 1st and 2nd.

The first beautifully animated, and heart felt, short film about a little girl who visits the land of the dead, where she learns the true meaning of the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. Student Academy Award Gold Medal winner, 2013

Click here to watch.   

If you're in a hurry, the second video gives you a quick overview of 5 things you might not know about this celebration.

Click here to watch.

The third video from the National Hispanic Cultural Center offers a more in-depth overview of the historical and cultural aspects of the celebration.

Click here to watch.

Previous Day of the Dead Episodes:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Me, Too? Trying to find the answer leads to a clue


My heart breaks for the flood of “me too” messages. Even my darling granddaughter, barely 16, writes “me too.” I knew the numbers were huge but I didn’t know how huge. It made me begin to wonder how and why I have been so lucky. I have not had to deal with incest, rape or physical or mental abuse.

I don’t think I was any smarter or basically any different from the tidal waves of “me toos.” The only variable I can find is luck. What a strange thing to think that the absence of evil could be the result of luck. What does it say about the state of manhood when we realize how many women have been abused or assaulted? What does it say about the state of womanhood that we have allowed this insidious abuse to run rampant?

As I’ve rehashed my history, I realize I’ve never been pressured or harassed at work. I may have laughed off a few inappropriate comments and ignored some nude calendars, but I’ve never been groped, fondled, pressured or propositioned. My father instilled fear in me and perhaps that created a kind of “jerk-dar."

Digging through my work career, I can find few men who weren’t absolute gentlemen. In my relationship history, even the failures were generally smart, funny men who were never unkind. As I kept digging, however, I finally found a jerk in the shadows, but it was so far back and so minor that I hesitate to say, “me, too” because it seems to demean the suffering behind those words for so many others.

However, I will tell the story, insignificant as it was. I was a young wife and we were in college at a party with friends. The hostess was a good friend but her husband was a known jerk and he was always coming onto me. Wherever my friend is now, I’m sure she has written “me, too.”

Anyway, I always avoided being alone with the husband until one night he pulled me into a bedroom. We had all been drinking so I was trying to be as polite as possible when I told him I wasn’t interested. Apparently, he finally realized I truly wasn’t interested so he called me a disgusting, fat cow and walked out. He knew which button to push and my feelings were hurt, so I left the party with my husband.

The thing that hurt the most was that my friend never said anything or apologized. I didn’t care about her husband, I knew what he was, but I wanted her to say something, to be my friend. Many years later, she told me she was too embarrassed to say anything.

Maybe there’s a clue in this small story. My friend knew she was married to a predator. She knew he had targeted me. She didn’t know what to do, so she did nothing.

Maybe women have been too blind or complacent about jerk behavior of the men around them. Every woman who writes “me, too” was assaulted or abused by someone’s father, husband, brother or son. Maybe this outpouring of stories will make all of us more aware of what might be going on in our homes, workplaces and in our social lives. Maybe we will become more protective of each other.

I honestly do not believe that the men in my life have been jerks to or predators of other women. But, when I see the “me, too” postings, it makes me wonder. My awareness has been raised. We women need to believe each other and protect each other. We need to cherish each other and not look the other way when a guy is being a jerk or a predator. 
This doesn't mean this behavior is our fault. It does mean that we need to make it stop.

Day of the Dead #4: Honoring our many mothers


Coleus Leaf: a photo Polly might have taken
Writing about the Day of the Dead has prompted a lot of thinking about the special people in my life, the ones whom I consider my ancestors although they were not related by blood. One person I've been thinking about a lot is Polly Hubbard.

I was 27; she was 49. Polly was from the south, a generation ahead of me, however, she was anything but old fashioned or a standard Southern belle. She was brash, bold and often profane. She once told me that when Hank Hubbard asked her to marry him, she informed him that she was not interested in being a housewife or a mother. She was 22 at the time. When he said it was okay about the kids and that he would do all the cleaning, she accepted his proposal.

Hank was an engineer at a high tech, government firm and was still doing all the vacuuming when I met them. By then, Polly had softened and agreed to do most of the cooking and cleaning, but had held the line on not having children or vacuuming. They were married until he died much later of Alzheimer’s and she took care of him as well as he had always taken care of her.

I had never met anyone like Polly. She was a woman ahead of her time with a mind of her own, a free spirit who made me laugh and made me think. She also changed my life and gave birth to a part of me that I never knew existed … an embryonic being that was still too tiny and unformed to even name.

Polly was a photographer and a painter. She once invited me over to see photographs from her trip to Italy. I was stunned. Expecting to see Italy, she showed me art. I had never seen anything like her photos … elegant, graphic in lines and shadows, often monochrome with a single point of color. I had been taking photos for years but had never thought about “making art" with a camera. That evening, in a suburban basement, my relationship with photography changed.

We both worked part-time for a one-man accounting office; I was a bookkeeper; she was the receptionist. Our boss was rather prissy and irritating, fortunately however, he was usually gone, leaving us a lot of time to get to know each other.

One day, Polly told me I needed to start painting. She was that way. No gentle suggestions from her. We left work a bit early and went to an art supply store, where I fell into stupefied wonder. I was a kid from Kansas and never knew there were such places filled with paints and brushes, inks and canvases and a thousand other things all calling, “play with me!” That day started a life-long career of buying art supplies. For many years, that was my best artistic skill as I flitted from painting, drawing, needlepoint, quilting, collage and mosaic.

I wish I could say that my first canvases showed a magical, till then unrevealed talent. But no, that wasn’t the way it happened. Those early results were awkward and unpromising. However, while I didn’t like the results, I was taken with the process and loved learning and being part of something so completely new.

Polly encouraged my efforts, but I was young and full of career and marriage. The seed she planted lay dormant for years before it sprouted. By then, I had moved back to California and only talked to her occasionally, but she continued to poke, prod and nourish something she had apparently seen in me many years before. It took a long time before I realized Polly had given birth to my artistic nature and began to consider her one of my "other mothers."
Pauline 'Polly' Hubbard
One of the most prominent features of the altars made to honor the ancestors during the Day of the Dead celebration is a photo of the loved ones who have died. All the pictures I had of Polly were the victim of too many moves, but I found one with her obituary thanks to Google. 
She will be added to my Day of the Dead altar with my deepest gratitude to her for giving me the gift of art. 

Who are your other mothers, and how do you honor them? 

Previous Day of the Dead Episodes:
SALISBURY - Pauline Washburn "Polly" Hubbard, 89, of Salisbury, died Saturday, June 1, 2013, at the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks.

Born Dec. 11, 1923, in Wewoka, Okla., she was the daughter of the late Joseph Edward Washburn and Olive Gregg Washburn.

She was educated at New Lima High School; East Central State University, Ada, Okla.; and the University of Maryland, College Park.

While living in Salisbury from 1946-1960, she worked as the payroll clerk at Duke Power Company. After moving with her husband Hank to Silver Spring, Md., she became a part of the DC/ Maryland art community as a fine art photographer and remained active until returning to Salisbury early in 2007.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Henry C. "Hank" Hubbard, Jr., on Sept. 14, 2011.
She is survived by a sister, Evelyn McCune of Vancouver, Wash.; and six nieces. Also surviving are the remaining members of the Hubbard family which received her so graciously in 1946, when she came as a bride to live in Salisbury.

25/100


Friday, October 13, 2017

Photo Artistry, Photoshop, and the Question of What Is Art


Young Man at Taos Pueblo by Jeff Valdez
In the world of art, photography, and photo artistry, there is an ongoing discussion about the role of Photoshop. Is it “art?” Is it cheating? 

It reminds me of Jeff Valdez’s recent experience. Jeff is a musician and photo artist who specializes in photos of Native Americans and cowboys such as this one showing a young dancer in front of the Taos Pueblo in Taos, NM. Jeff’s work was recently disqualified by a judge in a photography show because, according to the judge, Jeff’s worked had crossed over into fine art and was no longer a photograph because he had used Photoshop.

I have been making digital art for eleven years and have watched the art world continue to be confused by the techniques of making art. Art shows often refuse photography and the ones who have a separate category for photography, don’t know what to do with the works that fall in between painting and photography, the area coming to be known as “photo artistry."
Living the Photo Artisic Life

Jeff and I are both members of a rapidly growing, private, photo artistry Facebook group sponsored by Sebastian Michaels, known as the father of photo artistry. Sebastian’s main focus is on empowering the inner artist through community, a dedicated magazine for photo artistry, and, of course, by teaching people how to use the incredibly creative and powerful world of Photoshop to capture their vision.

When Jeff posted his experience with the photo show, it triggered an ongoing conversation about the difficulties of being an artist using something other than paint and canvas or a photograph as it comes straight from a camera. One member has succeeded in convincing his local art group to create a new category of photo artistry; another talks about how show rules prohibit the use of anything that wasn’t created by the artist. 

What nonsense!

Andy Goldsworthy: Pebbles
Using that criteria, a painter shouldn’t be able to use a tube of paint; she should have to grind her own pigments. And Andy Goldsworthy would be criticized because he was using someone else's rocks, twigs, leaves, and so forth. Dawn Spears said, "Yep, unless it is a scene you planted, built, cooked or otherwise created with your own 2 hands, it's all cheating! What nonsense."

A common refrain reported by the members was hearing, “It’s not real art.” Or, “it’s not real photography.” That reminds me of the amazing movie, Tim’s Vermeer, about inventor (not painter) Tim Jenison's efforts to duplicate the painting techniques of Johannes Vermeer, in order to test his theory that Vermeer painted with the help of optical devices. In today’s world, no one questions the authenticity of Vermeer as a great artist. We look at his results, how his works make us feel, not at how he created his masterpieces. 
 
 Nicole Wilde probably summed up the issue when she stated, "I think there is room for all art forms, it's great to explore, and really the whole thing is about expressing yourself anyway."

Nicole's comment reminds me of a recent article I read about the use of AI in creating original art. I have to admit I don’t really like the idea that a computer could be considered an artist. However, what really fascinated me were the rules they plugged into the computer to determine what art is. 

Artificial Intelligence and Art

At Rutgers’ Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, they scanned 80,000 works of Western art into their computer, looking for “style breaks,” using a psychological theory of art evolution proposed by Colin Martindale (1943–2008). He hypothesized that at any point in time, creative artists try to increase the arousal potential of their art to push against habituation.

In layman speak, artists try to find new ways to express themselves and communicate to viewers in novel ways that excite the feelings the artists are trying to convey. This theory indicates that the artists we treasure are the ones who have broken ground and found new ways to excite us … from the Dutch with their meticulous detail and use of light, to the Impressionists trying to capture shifting lights and colors, to Dali with his melting clocks, and on and on, artists using anything and everything they could find to express their inner vision and convey it to the world.

Why would Photoshop be any different?

Janet Sipl
Photoshop is a tool. I remember my first painting class. I was working on a landscape and the teacher brought me a brush and said, “Try this.” I tried it and was stunned. Suddenly, that green stuff that looked like mud, now looked like grass. There are now dozens of blog posts and YouTube videos about how to use a fan brush and even custom make your own. (And, by the way, fan brush or no fan brush, my landscape sucked.)

Why is Photoshop any different from that fan brush? (Other than it could take a lifetime to really know how to use Photoshop.) 
This work by Janet Sipl is a beautiful example of photography and photoshop coming together to express her vision ... her art.

Why is art judged on anything except 
it’s impact on the viewer? 

One of my favorite photography stories involves Galen Rowell chasing across Tibet to be in exactly the right place at the right moment in order to capture a rainbow touching a monastery. That is art that takes your breath away.

Galen Rowell
Why isn’t “breathtaking" a criteria for any art show?

Why do we draw all these lines in the sand? Saying “art is… “ paint on canvas, or photography on paper with a white mat and a black frame, or polished marble nudes. 

Why are we so confused about what art is? I recently wrote an article titled: Photography: The critical importance of feedback and how to give it to yourself mainly because I was trying to develop a self-feedback process. What I found was an amazing variety of criteria used by judges of photography shows. Since I like simple things, I synthesized them into five criteria I could use for myself, criteria that have nothing to do with the techniques or tools used to achieve them.

If a room full of sunflower seeds is art (Weiwei) then why are art show judges still creating lengthy documents trying to constrain creative expression? Why don’t we just open the doors and let the work be judged by the impact it has?  
Painting Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds
BTW, Ai Weiwei's seeds, 100 million of them, representing particles and seeds of hope, are porcelain and hand painted. It took more than 1,600 artisans in Jingdezhen (the town that once made the imperial porcelain for over a thousand years), two and a half years to manufacture this huge pile of ceramic husks out of the kaolin from local mountains. What would judges say about an artist entering work created by 1,600 other people? Click here for more about this remarkable exhibit.

Here is the list of feedback criteria I’ve given myself. (I reserve the right to tweak as needed and would expect you to tweak them for your own aesthetics if you wanted to use them.)

 My 5 Self-feedback Criteria

When I finish a piece, I review each criteria and give it a rating between 1 and 10. It's not very objective, of course, but it gives me a starting point for considering my work against what I would like for it to be.

Wow! — images that pop, giving you a feeling of having seen something new, felt something at a deeper level, connected with the essence of the artist and the subject.
Clarity — focus on a subject or intended feeling in such a powerful way that the viewer knows deeply what the image is trying to convey.
Uniqueness — a striking personal style, fresh viewpoint, or a unique way of seeing the world and capturing it in an image. Giving the viewer something he hasn’t seen or felt before in an image.
Mood — a blend of light, subject, color and movement that creates a definite feeling or sense of time or place.
Abundance — a quality of depth where there were constantly new things to be discovered, that keeps attention roaming around the image.

Bottomline: art is not a technique, a tool, a medium or a set of algorithms plugged into a super computer. Art is a feeling, an act of communication, an expression of the uniqueness of one human being* as received by another.

* While it appears that some other species also create art, it only emphasizes the fact that art is what takes your breath away, regardless of how it's created or by whom or what. Which I guess does open the door to that computer thing being considered an artist. ;-(

24/100

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Mystery of art and where does that duck come from


Picasso's Bull
The mystery of art fascinates me. You start out with a seed of an idea, thinking you’re going to draw/paint/photograph a tree, and you wind up with a duck. How does that happen?

Art as a progression of discovery 


I didn’t realize how universal it was until I discovered Picasso’s bull. In the image shown here. You can follow the progression as he draws a bull, and not a bad bull, in the top left. Move down the images on the left as he first gets more bullish and then begins to move away from absolute bullness. By the time you get to the right column, he is going more and more abstract until he winds up with a few lines but still has his bull. However, it is a very different bull, merely the essence of bull. 
Did he know where he was going? It is my belief that Picasso didn't know that last bull would show up. I sometimes wonder if he ever groused about the fact that he had to draw nine bulls before he got to where he wanted to be, a place that pleased him. However, he probably understood that he had to allow a process of discovery to happen in order to get there. 
That process is the mystery of art, one that we may never completely understand.

Maybe it’s because Picasso was a great artist and I’m still a student that he could do all that transformation and still wind up with a bull, while I start out with a tree and wind up with a duck. The process still fascinates me.

Beadwork
Yesterday I was just playing, with nothing much in mind. A huge percentage of the photos I take are just textures or interesting things that might be elements in a piece. This jewelry image was one of those. Bead work found in the mercado. 
I had played with this image before, creating a background which called to me once again.
Soft, yellow texture
 My photo artistry teacher, Sebastian Michaels, keeps talking about experimenting so I was trying to follow his advice and started playing with a diagonal created from the background.
Background with diagonal line.
That wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I kept playing, repeating the diagonal in a different direction. 
More diagonals, creating a pattern.
I liked the pattern that emerged, but what to do with it? I tried putting a tree in the image. Actually two trees. Tilt. Reject. I was stymied and started going through my images to find something that wanted to play in this picture. When I came across this snake, I wondered what it would look like if it were crawling across that vertical line. 
Wall art snake in Ajijic.
The snake really intrigued and energized me, but it was too straight and I wanted more color. Also, of course, it was someone else’s snake and if I’m going to steal an idea, I want to make it mine.
Snake joins the developing piece.
When I added the snake to the diagonal, it started to get really interesting, but I still had no idea where it wanted to go. It looked like it was going somewhere ... or at least wanted to go somewhere. I tried the trees again. Snakes and trees go together. Nope. Didn’t work. In order to fill the space, I repeated the triangle of lines … and that composition pleased me.
The composition comes together but where is it going?
However, I still didn’t have a sense of where the whole thing was going. Back to the photos. The one that popped out and said "use me” was interesting but way too dark. I was sure it wouldn’t work but tried it anyway. 

Lines on black back ground - wall art
And, I was right. It was too dark, but I liked the lines and there was something about it that really pulled me forward.  
Too dark, but the mystery captured me.
 It took a lot more playing, but I now had a sense of where I was going, however, I didn’t know where the snake was going until I decided he needed a map. After that, it was just a lot of tweaking and more layers until the final image showed up. 
Song Lines of the Snake
So, that's "Song Lines of the Snake” … a “duck" I never expected. I started off with a piece of beadwork from the local mercado and wound up with a snake on a journey. This is the reason I keep coming back to this form of art. 
Some folks scoff at Photoshop and call it “cheating.” I am just grateful to have such an amazing, powerful tool that I can use to pull something forth from myself that surprises and delights me. 
Here in Mexico, the way we say we like something is, “me gusta.” A more literal translation would be … "to me, it is pleasing." I like that nuance. It’s not a judgment about whatever it is, it is a statement about how it affects me. It pleases me. I have no idea what the judgment of my art is or will be by the world. I just know it pleases me and every day I am grateful for being able to play in this world of photo artistry.

We’ll talk more later about Photoshop and this new and sometimes controversial world of digital art, photo artistry.

23/100

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Day of the Dead #3: Three Deaths


Ofelia Esparza, an “altarista” featured on an intercultural video series, “Craft in America: Border Episode” says each of us dies three times: once when we die physically, once when we are buried and will never be seen on the face of the earth again, and once when we are forgotten. It is that third death that is the hardest and is the primary reason behind the Day of the Dead ceremonies.

Click to watch video:
Of course, as a child, I wasn't thinking about any of those deaths when I decided that I didn’t “like” death. I was one of the fortunate ones, however. Death barely whispered to me until I reached my 60s, and then it began to roar.
Richard and Ava in the poppy fields
My husband, a kind, sweet, funny man was my first major loss that came after three years of dealing with cancer. I remember asking him as we neared the end if he feared death. He said, “No,” but added that there was one thing he did fear … being forgotten. Those words broke my heart because there was nothing in our lives that would make him believe that we wouldn’t forget him. We had no rituals of remembering those who had gone before us.

Perhaps that was the first significant shift in my acceptance of death as a part of life. The losses multiplied quickly after Richard died as I quickly lost all of my elders and began to lose friends and colleagues. 
 

Day of the Dead as a celebration of Life

 
In the "Craft in America" episode linked above, Ofelia Esparza states, “For Day of the Dead, we don’t celebrate death; we celebrate life. We invite the souls to come visit us.” 
 
Everything that is done during the celebration is done as a way to help the departed souls find their way back to their loved ones and to feel honored and cared for. As we, the living, are preparing their favorite foods, creating an altar in their honor, and cleaning and decorating their graves, we are remembering them, softening that third death that will come to each of us eventually.

As my resistance to death began to soften, I created my own “death day.” We know when our birth day is but most of us never know when our death day will be. So I decided on June 17th as my death day. The intention was to use that day as a reminder that I will die, but, until then I should live fully. This past year as I grow ever nearer to the close of this earth adventure, I decided that the 17th of every month would be honored as a death day, reminding myself to do everything I want to do while I’m still healthy and alive …  and, also, to get my affairs in order so that there is a minimum of mess for others to take care of when I leave.

Moving to Mexico was a major decision related to that commitment to live fully and lightly for the rest of my time. I had always wanted to live in a different culture and learn a second language. It was time to make that happen.

So, here I am living by a beautiful lake in a charming village in Mexico. I am healthy, energetic, delighted by the art I’m making and the interesting people I’m meeting. In the 1980s, it was common to hear people say, “This would be a good day to die.” Widely attributed to Crazy Horse, apparently it is more correctly attributed to Oglala Lakota chief Low Dog.

Whomever deserves the credit, I have reached a place where I can honestly say, “This would be a good day to die,” which actually means I am free to live and would have no regrets if this were my last day (although I hope I get to see many more.) And, being here in Mexico has brought me closer to an appreciation for the rituals of death and honoring those who have gone before us … which actually helps us savor life more fully.

Later this month, I will be creating an altar for the Day of the Dead and will write about the common altar elements in the next episode of this series.

Previous Day of the Dead Episodes:


22/100

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Art Gallery of the Future and the role of technology


Old thinking: art galleries can only show as much art as they have wall or display space.
New thinking: art galleries of the future use technology to shatter old thinking.

"Desert Wind" Click here to see all winners
Heaven Art Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, is an art gallery of the future … a brick and mortar gallery using technology to display the art work of thousands of artists from around the world. It opened May, 2017, with the work of 269 artists displayed on large screen, high-definition monitors. All work is available to purchasers within minutes through state-of-the-art giclee printing facilities.

Every month, Heaven Art facilitates a themed art contest to help bring the best work to the attention of art lovers. I was fortunate enough to discover the gallery through my participation in Sebastian Michael’s Awake program and am preparing to enter my third monthly contest.

Normally, you only hear about the awards artists win. I thought it might be interesting to post my entries and then let you know how it turns out later. In the first two months I’ve entered, I’ve won a 2nd, 3rd, and honorable mention (shown above). You can click on the link below the photo above to see some incredible digital art.

This month the categories are: 

A World Of . . . 1. PEACE - 2. BEAUTY - 3. JOY - 4. MYSTERY.


Here are my entries:

Category: Peace. "What was said to the rose.” The title comes from Rumi's words: "What was said to the rose that made it open was said to me here in my chest.” They drew me into creating this image and contemplating the unending beauty that flows through the universe. It's an easy thing to forget in these days of turbulence.
What was said to the rose ...
Category: Mystery. “Blasting Open.” This piece was inspired by the spiral of a coleus leaf and a neon sign flashing “Open.” The mystery of both nature and technology combined to blast open my thinking about life and the universe. 
Blasting Open
We'll let you know how these pieces fare when the results are announced at the beginning of November.
 
21/100
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

October Advice: Laugh!

A friend just shared some advice from a psychic that said:

Laughing will be very useful this month, especially laughing together with others. Find humor in every situation you can, even when you also need to cry. Humor will serve you well.

I think if I could drive around in this van that I found in San Cristóbal de las Casas, I would laugh more.

I know this is a weird time that tries our hearts and our patience, but let's try to find ways to laugh. 

Humorous photos greatly appreciated.

20/100

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Day of the Dead #2: Fancy-dressed skeletons


La Catrina from Diane Pearl's *
Of all the things that I didn’t get when I wound up in Mexico during Día de los Muertos, the strangest were all the fancy dressed skeletons. I was accustomed to seeing skeletons at Halloween, but not in ball gowns.
 
I blame my avoidance of all things death on my childhood (of course). My mother's family came from Arkansas, and one of their biggest days of the year was Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day. Back then, everyone went to the cemeteries, cleaned and decorated the graves, and had a thoroughly miserable time. 

As a young kid who didn't know any of the people who were prompting that weeping and wailing, I put it on the list of things I didn't like. So, my intention as the Day of the Dead celebration approached was to simply ignore it. Fat chance!

A story about a poor boy with artistic talent started my turnaround. I’m not sure why I wound up at a lecture by Marina Aguirre at the English Library in Mérida, subject: the symbolism of Dia de los Muertos. But, there I was, and as often happens when I do something that doesn’t particularly appeal to me, I wound up surprised and delighted.

The basics of the multi-day Day of the Dead celebration were familiar to me, but the nuances of Aguirre’s talk made it much richer than I had previously understood. This celebration isn’t about grieving as much as it is connecting with and honoring the ancestors who are still part of the family even if they no longer have bodies. It’s a time to honor and remember them, knowing they may even show up or send you blessings if you have attracted them with all the things they love, such as food and flowers, an altar in their honor, music, prayers, and, of course, fancy dressed skeletons.

And, this is where the story comes in. It starts in the early 1900s although its roots trail far back into the past, as do most traditions in Mexico.   One of the most popular symbols of the Day of the Dead is La Catrina, a skeleton in fancy dress. It is said that her roots come from the Aztec death goddess, Mictecacihuatl (pronounced [mik.teː.ka.ˈsí.waːt͡ɬ], literally Lady of the Dead - Wikipedia), but her current popularity began with Jose Guadalupe Posada.
 
Jose was a poor boy with a talent for drawing and a keen eye for the trends of the times. Under the controversial leader Porfirio Díaz, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. It was a time when all things white and European were good and all things brown and Indigenous were to be avoided, if you had the money to do so.

History note: José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was a Mexican general and politician who served seven terms as President of Mexico,  from 1884 to 1911. The Mexican Revolution began during his presidency in 1910 and lasted until 1920.

Posada became a printmaker and, noticing what was going on his country, he began making a series of prints called calaveras which show skeletons and skulls with painted white faces dressed in fancy costumes. The dual symbolism of the emptiness of the European-focused society and that death did not discriminate between the wealthy and the poor struck a chord. The print that would become most well-known was called
La Catrina
Calavera de la Catrina (Skull of the Female Dandy) and shows a skull wearing a huge, European-style hat, only worn by the wealthy. 

Unfortunately for Jose, these prints were not destined to bring him fame or fortune. He died poor and unknown in 1913. La Catrina, however, did not die.
Rivera's Mural
Several years after Posada’s death, muralist Diego Rivera brought Catrina and Posada into the popular imagination when he placed Catrina front and center in his mural, Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central or Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, a mural that represents over 400 years of Mexican history and is in Museo Mural Diego Rivera in Mexico City.

In the mural, Rivera is standing beside an elegantly dressed Catrina and she is holding the hand of a young boy, representing a young Rivera. Behind them stands Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s wife. And, while the mural was painted in the mid-1900s, La Catrina’s popularity has grown steadily since then and can be seen almost everywhere, especially in the lead up to the Día de los Muertos celebration which begins October 31 and continues through November 2nd. She will be seen in stores, homes, altars and walking around during the celebrations as people don La Catrina costumes.
Diane Pearl and Maricruz Ibarra Macias
My appreciation for this celebration has grown over my time here in Mexico, especially when I had a chance to speak with Maricruz Ibarra Macias who works with Diane Pearl at a most amazing folk art and gift shop here in Ajijic. She helped me see the layer of humor behind this celebration and how it helps people honor their ancestors ... and, not take death so seriously. If you're in Ajijic on November 2nd, I highly recommend a visit to this colorful shop on the corner of Ocampo and Colon. Maricruz wouldn't tell me what her costume is this year, but here's a picture of her with Diane Pearl last year. 

Somehow, this plate makes me feel the humor in all of this:

And, I'm very taken with this skull ... 
Skull from Diane Pearl's

Previous Day of the Dead Episodes:


* Special thanks to Diane Pearl Colecciones, an incredible gift shop, art gallery and jewelry store here in Ajijic, Mexico, and to Maricruz Ibarra Macias for background information and photos.
The background banner for the first La Catrina comes Escaparate Creativo Blog.