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Published: Monday, 10/31/2005

Day of Dead celebration pays homage to departed loved ones

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Edie Buess Dickinson of Bowling Green puts a hand-made flower on the altar during the Day of the Dead celebration at the Toledo Museum of Art yesterday. Edie Buess Dickinson of Bowling Green puts a hand-made flower on the altar during the Day of the Dead celebration at the Toledo Museum of Art yesterday.
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The Day of the Dead is alive and well in Toledo.

About 200 people are expected at a mass remembering dead loved ones - Mexican style - at St. Peter and Paul's Church on Wednesday. And over the weekend hundreds took part in Day of the Dead celebrations at Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center, the Toledo Botanical Garden, and the Toledo Museum of Art.

The Day of the Dead, which falls on Wednesday but is often celebrated for several days, is a blend of Catholic rituals and indigenous beliefs of celebrating life after death that has been marked in Mexico for centuries.

"Death is not really viewed as an ending in Mexico," said Dora Lopez, whose Day of the Dead family altar at the Sofia Quintero center was judged the best by a group of artists. "It's viewed as more a beginning and extension of life."

Day of the Dead is to remember good times with friends and family who have died and draw their souls back with a display of their favorite things on an altar that also features playful skeletons and skulls.

On the Day of the Dead, some believe, the deceased are given divine consent to visit their family and friends who are living.

Because the journey back from the beyond is thought to be long, altars typically include the deceased's favorite foods and a glass of water to refresh weary souls.

One at Sofia Quintero also included cans of Busch beer and a pack of Marlboro cigarettes.

The altar includes hand-made flowers. The altar includes hand-made flowers.
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On Ms. Lopez's altar, a picture of her mother, Lucy Lopez, who died July 14, was prominent along with a program from a Lawrence Welk show her mother loved, a basketball - she had played the sport in high school, and a John Kerry presidential campaign bumper sticker, as well as a cross, a Rosary, and a pin of the Pope.

Gathering those mementos together was good for Ms. Lopez.

"It's so therapeutic to build these altars," she said.

Such altars and other Day of the Dead remembrances have become far more common in the United States in the past 10 to 15 years.

Connie Eason, who grew up in Texas near the Mexico border, remembers Day of the Dead as an all-day, family work day at the rural cemetery where their loved ones were buried.

They pulled weeds, picked up debris, and washed grave markers.

"That's when us kids learned the history of our family," said Ms. Eason, who lives in Toledo's Old West End.

Joe Lopez, a San Antonio artist who displayed his pictures of dancing skeletons and colorful skulls at Toledo Botantical Garden yesterday, specializes in Day of the Dead art.

As a young man, he had stopped taking part in such celebrations. And when a niece urged him to think about Day of the Dead in his artwork he replied, "I'm not into the skeleton thing."

But a few years later he had a flashback to family outings at an old cemetery where the children played hide-and-go-seek and tag while the adults worked. He painted a Day of the Dead piece and it sold before he got it framed.

Now Day of the Dead accounts for about 10 percent of his work.

Dozens of people met Mr. Lopez at the botanical gardens yesterday and about 150 were at the Sofia Quintero center Saturday night.

But yesterday's warm, sunny weather that begged outside work and play left the Day of the Dead open house at the center and programs at the art museum a little, well, dead.

Despite a quiet day yesterday, however, the museum helped more than 100 local children and teenagers learn more about the observance all fall.

The museum's art classes at the Sofia Quintero center and some at the museum have focused on the commemoration for eight weeks.

And the idea the dead might still be enjoying life made for interesting conversations with young students as they made altar decorations, said Jennifer Moorman, the museum's art teacher at Sofia Quintero.

"It's kind of like a brighter way to look at death," she said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at: jschmucker@theblade.com or 419-337-7780.



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