Daily Camera (Boulder)

Giv­ing life to the past

Long­mont’s Day of the Dead fes­tiv­i­ties to stretch into sev­eral months

- By Ka­lene Mccort

While the Mex­i­can hol­i­day Day of the Dead is nor­mally only cel­e­brated over the course of three days, this year’s Long­mont fes­tiv­i­ties hon­or­ing the tra­di­tion will stretch into sev­eral months.

With Mu­seum of Long­mont launch­ing its Dia de los Muer­tos ex­hibit early this month (which runs through Jan. 9) and Fire­house Art Cen­ter kick­ing off the open­ing of a new ex­hibit with a pa­rade to­day, there are plenty of vir­tual and in-per­son op­por­tu­ni­ties to tap into the vi­brancy and won­der of a cus­tom that beau­ti­fully hon­ors the de­parted.

“This is my fa­vorite hol­i­day and it makes me proud to know that the Fire­house — in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Long­mont Mu­seum, the LDDA, el Comite, LMAC and other Long­mont or­ga­ni­za­tions — is a part in cre­at­ing the largest Dia de los Muer­tos cel­e­bra­tion in Colorado,” said Elaine Water­man, di­rec­tor of Fire­house Art Cen­ter.

Coro­n­avirus and the new safety guidelines have al­tered the of­fer­ings of the two-decade Long­mont tra­di­tion, yet the pas­sion sur­round­ing the cul­tur­ally rich city-wide af­fair re­mains as strong as ever.

In years prior, the lo­cal cel­e­bra­tion and events as­so­ci­ated with it would draw more than 8,000 spec­ta­tors. This year, huge crowds will not be able to gather, but plenty of rev­el­ries will com­mence.

Grupo Azteca Tlahuiz­calli dancers will start with an in­vo­ca­tion at Roo­sevelt Park at 6 p.m. to­day. Around 6:30 p.m., a pro­ces­sion of gi­gantes will joy­fully stroll the streets of Long­mont.

“The ori­gin of these gi­ant pup­pets goes back to the tra­di­tion of Los Gi­gantes in Spain,” Water­man said. “The Span­ish in­vaders brought this tra­di­tion to Mex­ico and the de­signs evolved into the pup­pets you see in mod­ern Dia de los Muer­tos cel­e­bra­tions. In Mex­ico. and some parts of Latin Amer­ica, these huge pup­pets have enor­mous dec­o­rated heads made from pa­per maché while the body is an A-frame struc­ture draped with fan­ci­ful garb. They can get up to 15-feet tall, but I think our largest one is around 9 feet. The dancer/pup­peteer climbs un­der the struc­ture — where their feet be­come the gi­gante’s feet — and a slight mid-body slit al­lows them to see through the cloth­ing.”

Those who wish to join the pa­rade are en­cour­aged to dress up in calaca — skele­ton — ap­parel and don masks. While all the evening’s events are free, folks must reg­is­ter for a ticket. Their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion will be the Fire­house Art Cen­ter, where reg­is­tered at­ten­dees can ex­plore the lat­est work on dis­play at no charge.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers and lo­cal artists re­cently cre­ated nearly 35 “Ca­tri­nas,” with 13 hang­ing in the Long­mont Pub­lic Li­brary and the re­main­der hang­ing in the Fire­house gallery. Vis­i­tors can bid on the al­lur­ing works that fea­ture the iconic Mex­i­can fig­ure and take a bit of the tra­di­tion home with them. All pro­ceeds sup­port the Fire­house’s out­reach pro­grams, cul­tural events and ex­hibits.

Vis­i­tors can also view the di­verse and stir­ring work of mod­ern Colorado-based Lat­inx artists Adrian Raya, Cal Du­ran, Javier Flores and Ra­mon Tru­jillo.

“Death and loss is some­thing ev­ery­one goes through, and the process of cop­ing is such a dif­fi­cult thing,” said Grace Gu­tier­rez, cu­ra­tor of Fire­house Art Cen­ter’s Dia de los Muer­tos 2020 – Our Past and Present. “I think es­pe­cially now, com­mu­ni­ties are of­ten so di­vided, but heal­ing com­mu­nally makes it so much eas­ier for in­di­vid­u­als who ex­pe­ri­ence loss to get through it. That is what is so beau­ti­ful about this cel­e­bra­tion, that it in­vites fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity to cel­e­brate and me­mo­ri­al­ize our lost loved ones while also giv­ing us time to prac­tice hu­mil­ity and em­pa­thy to­wards one an­other.”

From Flores’s cap­ti­vat­ing shadow-like boxes dis­play­ing yel­low-hued vin­tage portraitur­e of lost loved ones to the col­lab­o­ra­tive work of Adrian Raya and Ra­mon Tru­jillo that memo­ri­al­izes two 21-year-old men, Juan Louis Gar­cia and Jef­frey “Beaver” Cor­dova, who were shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer in Long­mont in 1980, the pieces call at­ten­tion to cit­i­zens of the past.

“View­ers can ex­pect to see a wide range of my artistry — sculp­tural pieces made of ce­ramic and pa­per maché,” said Den­ver-based folk artist Cal Du­ran. “I am an al­tar maker, a cho­sen one in my linage to honor the past and sto­ries of my cul­ture. I’m look­ing for­ward to show­ing the pub­lic how im­por­tant it is to honor the spir­its of the past as we are legacy keep­ers for our lives and ones be­fore us.”

Within his dis­play at Fire­house, Du­ran pays homage to José Hi­lario Cortez — a Long­mont man who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan and fought against hate in the 1920s.

“I get to dive into the imag­i­na­tion, to honor my cul­ture through an­cient medi­ums, to hold space for cre­at­ing my dreams, to build lega­cies and teach oth­ers that art is a pow­er­ful tool to heal,” Du­ran said.

Du­ran’s de­tailed work fully sub­merges the on­looker. Cre­at­ing a pal­pa­ble vibe and tone, he trans­forms gallery spa­ces into med­i­ta­tional places of wor­ship — filled with can­dles and fra

grant marigolds — where senses are en­gaged.

The ex­hi­bi­tion as a whole gives at­ten­dees an in­ti­mate peek into the lin­eage and lives of lo­cal de­ceased in­di­vid­u­als they may have never heard of un­til now.

“I would have to say the most re­ward­ing thing about be­ing able to cu­rate this ex­hi­bi­tion is be­ing able to share lo­cal Lat­inx his­tory with the com­mu­nity,” Gu­tier­rez said. “I grew up in Long­mont and I have seen it change so much since I was a child, which I think is great, but with change comes gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and displaceme­nt of Lat­inx fam­i­lies and busi­nesses, so to be able to share our sto­ries and his­to­ries is a real honor. As far as the fes­tiv­i­ties go, I love that the cel­e­bra­tion bridges gen­er­a­tions of tra­di­tions from an­cient In­dige­nous Aztec danc­ing with Grupo Azteca Tlahuiz­calli, the gi­gantes pro­ces­sion and an art ex­hibit ex­plor­ing lo­cal his­tory with a mod­ern artis­tic twist.”

Gu­tier­rez, known for her large-scale mu­rals that pay homage to her cul­ture, is ex­cited to show­case the work of her men­tors and peers — all of whom she met while in art school.

“All of these artists are do­ing im­por­tant work of­ten ad­dress­ing so­cial is­sues and em­brac­ing cul­tural pride and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment,” Gu­tier­rez said. “I wanted this ex­hi­bi­tion to do all of those things so they were all nat­u­ral choices.”

Gu­tier­rez also sees the ex­hibit, which will be up through Nov. 8, as some­thing fam­i­lies can ex­pe­ri­ence and bond over to­gether.

“I also love how this hol­i­day con­nects gen­er­a­tional di­vides and re­minds us how im­por­tant it is to un­der­stand and be proud of our past and learn from our his­tory,” Gu­tier­rez said.

Shar­ing cul­ture

The Long­mont Mu­seum is also filled with com­mu­nity-sourced flower-dot­ted al­tars, sugar skulls, fam­ily heir­looms and pho­to­graphs.

“The most re­ward­ing as­pect of car­ry­ing on the tra­di­tion of Dia de los Muer­tos is shar­ing cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences and find­ing com­mon­al­i­ties be­tween di­verse ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Ann Macca, Long­mont Mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor of ed­u­ca­tion. “These things are es­pe­cially im­por­tant this year with so much loss in our com­mu­nity. It’s even more im­por­tant than usual to give peo­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­mem­ber their loved ones, honor and mourn them, and to cel­e­brate their lives.”

The sprawl­ing ex­hibit also fea­tures the work of Regis Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and renowned artist Tony Ortega — an award-win­ning cre­ative whose ca­reer spans nearly four decades.

“The last six months have been chal­leng­ing times, with anx­i­ety, un­cer­tainty and in­se­cu­rity with COVID19,” Ortega said. “Like many other artists, many of my ex­hibits had been post­poned, can­celed or closed to the pub­lic. Thanks to the op­por­tu­nity given to me by the Long­mont Mu­seum, I have been cre­atively re­vi­tal­ized, es­pe­cially the last few months.”

The ex­hibit in­cludes Ortega’s paint­ings, prints, mixed-me­dia works and il­lus­tra­tions from kids’ pub­li­ca­tions.

“These chil­dren’s books, writ­ten by Dr. Ge­orge Rivera and il­lus­trated by me, are part of a se­ries that re­counts the ad­ven­tures of a Chi­cano boy, Pano, and his two dogs, Cholo and Vato,” Ortega said. “Their ad­ven­tures in­clude a Day of the Dead cel­e­bra­tion, their ex­pe­ri­ence in a mi­grant fam­ily and their ad­ven­ture learn­ing the his­tory of Cinco de Mayo. Their ex­pe­ri­ences are de­scribed in

Span­ish and English with col­or­ful and lively il­lus­tra­tions by me. Their ad­ven­tures give view­ers glimpses of Chi­cano cul­ture and con­vey an ap­pre­ci­a­tion through open dis­cus­sions about tra­di­tion, iden­tity and child­hood dis­cov­ery.”

Ortega, with the help of vol­un­teers, has also crafted a five-panel mu­ral in down­town Long­mont com­mem­o­rat­ing the cel­e­bra­tion’s 20th an­niver­sary.

“As a Chi­cano artist, my iden­tity, cul­tural tra­di­tions and ge­o­graphic back­ground in­form in my art,” Ortega said. “I live be­tween the clash of two cul­tures, one Mex­i­can and Amer­i­can. By merg­ing iconic Mex­i­can and Amer­i­can iconog­ra­phy in my art, I show that my jour­ney is not unique.”

In his se­ries of hy­brid im­ages, Ortega fuses Amer­i­can pop cul­ture with no­table Mex­i­can cul­ture and the re­sult is both play­ful and en­thralling.

“Of­ten, I com­bine con­tem­po­rary is­sues with art his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences,” Ortega said. “In my print ‘Mex­i­can Gothic,’ I place two well­known Mex­i­can artists and ac­tivists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in a Grant Wood paint­ing. With this im­age I hope to show that Mex­i­can Amer­i­cans/mes­ti­zos that our pres­ence in the United States has a long his­tory, even longer that the ex­is­tence of the United States as a na­tion.”

En­trance into the Long­mont Mu­seum is $5 for stu­dents and se­niors and $8 for adults.

“With cre­at­ing art, I can ad­dress the dif­fer­ences in my world, form­ing a new and more ac­cu­rate out­look of my per­sonal and cul­tural iden­tity,” Ortega said.

On Nov. 1, folks can log on to Long­mont Mu­seum’s Face­book page, Long­mont Public­me­dia.org or tune into lo­cal Com­cast Chan­nel 8/880 for a vir­tual Day of the Dead Cel­e­bra­tion which will in­clude per­for­mances by Las Dahlias singing Mex­i­can trio, Grupo Folk­lorico Mex­ico Lindo dance, mari­achi, po­etry by bi­cul­tural com­mu­nity leader Laura Soto and more.

In ad­di­tion, to­day nu­mer­ous down­town Long­mont busi­nesses will un­veil ofrenda dis­plays that will re­main up through Nov. 2. Maps for self-guided tours of all busi­ness al­tar lo­ca­tions will be avail­able at down­town busi­nesses, as well as at the Long­mont Down­town De­vel­op­ment Author­ity of­fice at 320 Main St.

Ev­ery week in October, Long­mont’s Day of the Dead web­site will fea­ture the­matic con­tent that peo­ple can par­take in at home. From cre­at­ing an in­tri­cate al­tar in one’s very own liv­ing room to pre­par­ing traditiona­l cui­sine, the of­fer­ings are sure to keep folks en­gaged and en­ter­tained.

“I hope that peo­ple take away a sense of con­nec­tion to their com­mu­nity from this ex­hibit,” said Macca. “Ev­ery­one ex­pe­ri­ences loss, and we’re not iso­lated in our grief. Through­out all of Tony Ortega’s work is a sense of life, joy and cel­e­bra­tion, and that’s some­thing we all need right now. As a cu­ra­tor, I’m hon­ored to have in­her­ited this pro­gram and tra­di­tion. The fact that we’ve made it to 20 years of cel­e­brat­ing Dia de los Muer­tos at the Mu­seum and it con­tin­ues to go and grow is an in­di­ca­tion of how much it means to the peo­ple in the com­mu­nity.”

 ?? Long­mont Mu­seum / Cour­tesy photo ?? An al­tar at the Long­mont Mu­seum is part of the Dia de los Muer­tos ex­hibit that will run through Jan. 9.
Long­mont Mu­seum / Cour­tesy photo An al­tar at the Long­mont Mu­seum is part of the Dia de los Muer­tos ex­hibit that will run through Jan. 9.
 ?? Grace Gu­tier­rez / Cour­tesy photo ?? This piece by artists Adrian Raya and Ra­mon Tru­jillo memo­ri­al­izes two 21-year-old men, Juan Louis Gar­cia and Jef­frey "Beaver" Cor­dova, who were shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer in Long­mont in 1980, can be seen at Fire­house Art Cen­ter through Nov. 8.
Grace Gu­tier­rez / Cour­tesy photo This piece by artists Adrian Raya and Ra­mon Tru­jillo memo­ri­al­izes two 21-year-old men, Juan Louis Gar­cia and Jef­frey "Beaver" Cor­dova, who were shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer in Long­mont in 1980, can be seen at Fire­house Art Cen­ter through Nov. 8.
 ?? Grace Gu­tier­rez / Cour­tesy photo ?? The work of Cal Du­ran hon­or­ing José Hi­lario Cortez, a Long­mont man who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan and fought against hate in the 1920s, can be seen at Fire­house Art Cen­ter through Nov. 8.
Grace Gu­tier­rez / Cour­tesy photo The work of Cal Du­ran hon­or­ing José Hi­lario Cortez, a Long­mont man who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan and fought against hate in the 1920s, can be seen at Fire­house Art Cen­ter through Nov. 8.

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