Day of the Dead comes to Duluth
With careful anticipation, Susana Pelayo-Woodward unwraps skull figurines from one of her many boxes of Day of the Dead supplies. She takes out a miniature Frida Kahlo ofrenda and speaks about it with zeal. When asked if this is her favorite time of the year she nods immediately.
“Oh, definitely,” she says.
Pelayo-Woodward, the Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Alison Aune, an art education professor, have been displaying the Day of the Dead exhibit since the early ‘90s. Originally, the exhibit was placed in the Tweed Museum but has since been moved to the Multicultural Center.
The exhibit will be set up in the Multicultural Center by Oct. 22. On Oct. 30, children from Preschool at the Park and Spirit of the Lake Waldorf School are coming to the Multicultural Center to see the display and do activities with Aune’s art education students.
The children will be taught by Aune’s art students about Day of the Dead traditions and look at all the ofrendas. Ofrendas are a collection of someone's favorite things from when they were alive. Commonly they feature a picture of that person, their favorite foods, and marigold flowers.
They will also participate in their own craft-making.
“When the kids come in, we’re going to take them around to the different ofrendas and talk about the different aspects of Mexican folk art,” Aune said. “Then we will be making Ojo de Dios, little calaveras, paper flowers, and have the kids color paper masks.”
Aune asserted that the project serves a purpose and isn't just a spectacle.
“The whole project is to increase awareness and to respectfully engage in a multicultural project,” Aune said. “We will be looking at this cultural tradition and creating community by making art together.”
The art students are using recyclables to create their ofrenda. Cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, milk jugs, and newspaper litter the long table the students work on. They work with a tranquil busyness, talking and joking, helping each other create skeleton bodies, skull heads, even a cat. Pictures of Mexican folk art are taped to the wall and Disney-Pixar’s “Coco” plays on the projector.
“Some people are making skull masks and right now we’re working on a mariachi band,” Natalie Benson, a sophomore, said. “I was kinda inspired by ‘Coco.’”
“It’s super interesting because it makes me think how respectable [Mexican] culture is and how much time and thought they put in for just one day of the year,” Benson said. “It’s amazing to actually learn about it and to create different things. [Students] are making some for family members that have passed away. It's not just making an object, it’s making an object with purpose.”
Originally from Mexico City, Pelayo-Woodward has been celebrating the holiday since she was a child. She remembers setting up ofrendas for her past family members.
“It’s beautiful to remember your loved ones that have passed away,” Pelayo-Woodward said. “In Mexican culture the cycle of life understands that we are all going to pass away at one point. The Day of the Dead helps to make light of that realization.”
Pelayo-Woodward recalls her favorite memory of Day of the Dead as a child in Mexico.
“I remember going to the cemetery to visit my grandfather and to clean his grave,” Pelayo-Woodward said. “Sitting there and conversing with him, remembering fond memories with him.”
Pelayo-Woodward is proud that the Duluth community is learning about the Day of the Dead tradition.
“People are always willing to learn,” Pelayo-Woodward said. “All of us at one point have lost a loved one and we grieve in different ways, but everyone grieves and everyone remembers a loved one.”
More Day of the Dead celebrations include Duluth All Souls Night on Nov. 10 at the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center.
A previous version of this story misspelled Susana Pelayo-Woodward. It has been corrected.