Colorful sugar skulls, decorative altars and hundreds of attendees adorned the halls of the Idaho State Historical Museum on Nov. 2 for the annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. Several artists put their talents to work, creating beautiful altars in the tradition of the Mexican holiday.
Anne Schorzman, events coordinator for the museum, helped organize the museum’s participation in the holiday.
“I think this is our fourth year doing Día de los Muertos,” Schorzman said. “Each year we try to do one big project. This year it’s these big banners that you see. They made them in Pioneer Village, the area right next to here by a steamroller.”
The theme of the festival is celebrating and praying for family and friends who have passed away. Although a traditionally Christian holiday, the origins can be traced back hundreds of years to Aztec rituals. This combination of cultures created the current Día de los Muertos seen today.
Schorzman elaborated on the skeletons often seen during Día de los Muertos, particularly the infamous La Calavera Catrina. Catrina, a skeleton dressed in ornate garments and often holding marigolds, has become an iconic fixture for Día de los Muertos.
“The reason she’s in all of her finery is because the belief is you come back looking your very best,” Schorzman said. “And the skeleton is a friendly skeleton, it’s not meant to be scary.”
Altars, called ofrendas (offerings), are crafted together in honor of those who have died. Favorite foods, drinks, pictures, sugar skulls, marigolds and possessions are typical items on display on a traditional ofrenda.
Kelsey Copeland, a Boise State sophomore double majoring in health sciences and psychology, works at the museum and helped staff the event. She believes the community aspect of the event is paramount to its success.
“We’ve had schools and individual artists come in and it’s just very personal for the community,” Copeland said. “My favorite is probably the steamroller prints. They carved out plywood and they took sheets and actually ran over it with a steamroller. They’re all just so intricate.”
While a longstanding tradition in Mexico and parts of the United States, Día de los Muertos is still new to many Americans.
Sean Hughes, an assistant to Schorzman, helped set up and run the event. A Boise State senior majoring in history, Hughes admits he had to research the festival before the day of the event arrived.
“I actually had to do some research on it last night because I was curious about it. I’m Catholic, and I knew it had something to do with the Catholic religion, but I didn’t really understand what they were doing,” Hughes said. “Then I found out they were honoring the lives of their loved ones.”
Hughes saw and helped set up the majority of the altars for the celebration. His favorite altar, Erin Cunningham’s “The Marriage,” features facsimiles of a married couple in bed covered by sheets, with one body covered in small trees.
“Marriage, being compared to nature, living and dying . That’s what really interested me with how they brought that together,” Hughes said. “Going from the bed to nature, and how death transposes those two gaps, is what blew me away with that one.”
The exhibits will continue to be displayed until Nov. 9.