The art museum in Myrtle Beach will get extra lively inside and out on Saturday with its annual Free Family Day for a tradition that celebrates the honor of late loved ones.
“Dia de los Muertos” – or translated from Spanish to English, “Day of the Dead” – will consume the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, 3100 S. Ocean Blvd, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., also as a Mexican culture celebration.
Pat Goodwin, the museum’s executive director, spoke about the multiple aspects of this celebration for the whole community to enjoy, through food, music and crafts.
Question | With this being the 11th annual Free Family Day for “Day of the Dead,” how big of a growing date circled has this commanded as a tradition on the museum's calendar every year?
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Answer | Since adding Free Family Days to our calendar of events in 2003 (Chinese New Year, Gullah Culture Celebration, and Day of the Dead), Dia de los Muertos is certainly the day that is automatically put on the planning calendar every year. For the museum, it’s always the first Saturday in November. That’s easier than scheduling around the official start of the Chinese New Year, for example. Mexico celebrates Dia de los Muertos over the first two days in November, so the first Saturday in November is as close as we can get to honoring that tradition.
Along with being a public favorite, Dia de los Muertos is also a popular day with volunteers, staff and participants. It’s like working – actually like celebrating – with family, because so many of our volunteers want to be part of the event year after year. It’s popular with our participants, too. We have one family from Beaufort that comes up every year to celebrate with us.
Q. | How will the timing of the 2014 event, especially on the heels of All Hallows Eve, and on a Saturday, make the activities even fresher and ultimately, more festive?
A. | Many people may not be aware of this, but All Hallows Eve revolves around the theme to use “humor and ridicule” to confront the power of death. This is the reason people wear costumes on Halloween. Having this event, Dia de los Muertos, allows people to continue with the festivities, try some traditional foods, learn about an artist and actually see an altar.
Q. | As “Day of the Dead” has changed through the centuries and become part of All Saints Day observances and remembrances, how has this culture extended beyond Hispanic significance?
A. | The celebration of All Saints Day is not uniquely Hispanic. Any country that is predominately Catholic celebrates All Saints Day, for it is a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church. For example in Belgium, Hungary and Italy, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In the Philippines, people visit graves of the deceased and clean or repair them.
Q. | By making a celebration of Mexican heritage for this whole day, what are some favorite foods, beverages, and expressions through entertainment that help help enrich an appreciation of this fabric of the southern arm of this continent?
A. | Pan de muerto, the sweet, egg-rich bread of the dead, has been a part of the Museum’s celebration from the beginning. Samples of the bread are served with Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado. Regionally, in Mexico, bread shapes can vary by region; we use the traditional round or oval loaves. Our loaves are cut in bite-size samples so that they can be served easily. The museum’s Day of the Dead altar, this year honoring artist Carlos Almaraz, always has at least two loaves as part of the display.
We all love a taste of hot chocolate on a lovely fall day, right? And champurrado is the perfect complement to the pan de muerto. Chocolate’s origin can be traced to the ancient cultures of Mexico. It’s one of the exotic foods the Spaniards acquired from the New World peoples. There are many historic references to the Aztecs and chocolate; but the Aztecs actually adopted the use of chocolate from the early Mayan culture. Hot chocolate, unlike hot cocoa, is made from chocolate bars melted into a cream. On Saturday, at the museum, you can find a recipe for homemade Mexican hot chocolate on one of the museum’s informational text panels.
The atmosphere inside and out seems to change when Mariachi Nuevo Guadalajara arrives. Everyone stops what they’re doing to clap and sing along. Mariachi is a type of musical group usually from Mexico. Mariachi instruments include violins, trumpets, guitars and a vihuela (a five-string, high-pitched guitar), and a guitarron, a small scale acoustic bass. The musicians dress in silver-studded charro (Mexican cowboy) outfits, with wide-brimmed hats. The Mariachi band plays inside the museum and then outside under the tent alternating with our colorfully costumed traditional dancers.
A favorite Dia de los Muertos activity is decorating a sugar skull. Sugar skulls are a traditional folk art from central and southern Mexico used to celebrate Day of the Dead. The sugar skulls decorate home altars and cemeteries to welcome back the spirits of the dead. The museum provides the sugar skull – we make well more than 100 of the skulls in advance of the day – and the icing. The “decorator” provides the creativity.
Q. | The altar and community mural for Carlos Almaraz: Even more than two decades since his passing, why have his paintings, pastels and signature signature mural styles, including his “Echo Park” series, become part of U.S. culture and history?
A. | Spotlighting a Mexican-born artist and muralist with a strong U.S. identification made the altar and mural especially interesting this year. Although Almaraz died 25 years ago, his pastels, paintings and murals are a major influence on young Latino artists. And currently in process is an exhibition of Almaraz’s work to open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2017. It will, the advance publicity states, “explore the artistic connections between Los Angeles and Latin America.”
Because education is at the heart of the museum’s Free Family Day celebrations, learning more about an artist and his times is always illuminating. And there’s lots to learn about Almaraz, it seems – the artist, the poet, the activist. He’s credited with, among other things, bringing Chicano art to the attention of mainstream American art institutions. Reading about the upcoming exhibit in Los Angeles, it seems that many of Almaraz’s works are currently unaccounted for and that the Chicano art is a fairly new field of study. So introducing Almaraz to our museum audience might just open a door of discovery for a budding art historian.
And it might start with the Almaraz mural. The hands-on children’s mural is a fun part of the day. Arielle Fatuova, the museum’s education coordinator, creates a large, 8-square-foot, black and white mural – much like a page from a coloring book – that is ready for the children to fill in. Enthusiastic volunteers are on hand to assist the kids with the brushes and paint.
Q. | For everyone attending the event this Saturday, what is the greatest thing or piece of wisdom to take home and treasure in one's mind and heart all year long until the next Day of the Dead?
A. | The greatest piece of wisdom to take home is that death is a part of life and it is OK to celebrate the dead. When Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico, it is something akin to an American family reunion. Family members come far and wide to visit the graves of a favorite relative and tell stories about the deceased, picnic and party. The yearly festival, in a sense, gives life to the deceased – and his or her memory is never forgotten.