If you go
What: “Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos” exhibit
When: Today through Nov. 4
Where: Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St.
Admission: $5 adults, $3 students, $10 families; free every Sunday and Thursday
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Special event: Day of the Dead celebration from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday; admission will be free
At this time of year, there are three types of decorations depicting skeletons.
In the first, the skeleton is a goofy cartoon character, and in the second, the skeleton is a folkloric monster
The third might be scariest of all for some people.
It’s the skeleton whose implied message is, “We’d better get used to the idea that we are all, eventually, going to be skeletons.”
The third skeleton is much in evidence at Day of the Dead celebrations.
Day of the Dead, aka Día de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday that will be celebrated throughout Fort Wayne in the coming weeks and at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.
Charles Shepard, executive director of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, says the Day of the Dead has pagan roots.
Centuries ago, Christ-centered Spanish conquistadors had limited success eradicating it or converting it, he says.
“There was an effort to water this down and make it part of Christianity, but it never quite worked,” he says.
The holiday is meant to memorialize the lives of people who have passed away, but it is neither overly formal nor overly morbid.
“It’s not downbeat,” Shepard says. “It’s like an Irish wake.”
The elaborate commemorative altars that people spend from weeks to months constructing “recognize that (a person) has passed but also celebrate her life when she was here,” he says.
Altars can be composed of photos, candles, incense, mementos, skulls made out of sugar, fresh fruit, the deceased person’s favorite foods and beverages and marigolds, Shepard says.
Shepard compares the Day of the Dead to the Vanitas tradition in art history.
“A Vanitas scene frequently features a still life, and the sitter in the portrait will have his hand on a skull,” he says.
The message of such paintings is “I am not afraid of death. I know that there’s a better life ahead of this and I am not reluctant to go to it,” Shepard says.
Eating skull-shaped baked goods as a way of serenely or joyously acknowledging the certainty of death is a difficult concept for some people with limited understanding of the Day of the Dead to swallow, Shepard says.
In a world where some people probably think Veterans Day was established to commemorate amazing deals on new cars, the Day of the Dead is amazingly pure, he says.
“So far, retailers have not taken advantage of ‘Day of the Dead,’ ” Shepard says.
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s Day of the Dead exhibit, which features from 17 to 20 altars created by local people and organizations, will be the site of a party of sorts on Saturday showcasing Mexican dance, song, poetry and folklore. It happens from 4 to 8 p.m.
Shepard says the museum expected about 120 attendees last year and got 500.
“We were not prepared for that crowd,” he says. “It was beautifully overwhelming.”
Shepherd says he was so inspired by the Day of the Dead this year that he created his own series of skull paintings.