Build Your Own Ofrenda By Renee Zamora

By now you’ve probably heard of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead; the sugar skulls, the skeletons, the parties and cemeteries. It’s mysterious, colorful, fun and sad all at once. It’s a unique and beautiful blend of joy and grief, life and death. Maybe you feel intrigued and curious to try some of the traditions yourself. I’d love to share my story and inspire you with one of my favorite parts of Día de los Muertos, the ofrenda.


The purpose of an ofrenda

An ofrenda is an altar, built to honor lost loved ones. Offerings are placed upon the ofrenda, to help us remember, learn about, and celebrate their lives. Traditional ofrendas are full of symbols and meaning, which have a long history with the holiday and people. Día de los Muertos customs are rooted with the Aztec belief that during Día de los Muertos the souls of lost loved ones can return from the land of the dead, feast on the smells of the food and drinks on the ofrenda, and be with their beloved families again. The ofrenda is made to connect both worlds, the living and the dead. It can connect us to our past, and allows the dead to connect with us. And the process of building the ofrenda is a powerful tool to teach children about their families and better understand traditions.


Why I make ofrendas

My Grandma Zamora died when I was two years old, and sadly many Mexican traditions ceased as well for our family. No more tamale dinners on Christmas Eve, cascarónes fights, or homemade tortillas. I didn’t even know about many traditions until I grew older. Pan dulce, Mexican sweet bread, was always at my Grandpa’s, but a lot more was missing, and I longed for it. It was sad enough not having my Grandma in our lives, but made worse to lose these traditions. I decided to change that.

I learned more about who she was and what she liked to do, and that she made fresh tortillas daily for her family of nine. I learned how she practiced her English by reading to children at the library. I began making tortillas, tamales, and cascarónes. I made my first ofrenda and dedicated it to her with pan dulce, Mexican bingo and her old earrings. I imagined her, and felt closer to her, and felt that I was making her proud. I knew that when I became a parent I would teach my own children about her, so they could feel this connection too.

This is Día de los Muertos, this is what it is about! Honor the dead, remember the lost loved ones. You can learn about who you are and what your family did for you. You can also grieve those you have lost more recently, in a way that encourages talking about them and sharing their stories.


Who do you want to honor?

Now I encourage you to try this yourself. Decide who will be on your ofrenda. Ofrendas are most often built for family members, but you may also want to include dear friends or beloved pets. They are family too, and their loss may be more recent and painful. When I see my dog, Rumbly’s, photos on our ofrenda I deeply miss her, but am comforted to see her as part of the family. Some people choose to honor a celebrity or historical figure they admire and this is fine too.

There’s someone else you may also choose to honor, a baby. It’s terribly common for families to go through miscarriages and infant loss. Although I advocate for people to share their losses I understand first hand how difficult this is to talk about. Making a special dedication to our lost babies is something I choose to do for them. I have also learned about how my grandmothers went through incredible losses, and this reminds me of the strength one must find.


Reflect and gather

It’s time to reflect on lost loved ones, and learn about those you never knew. Talk to your family, ask to see photos. Ask the questions; what did they love, what did they eat, what reminds you of them, what did they teach you.

Then begin collecting. Gather a few photos and maybe you will even discover your parent or grandparent has something that once belonged to them. Go buy that pan dulce or corn on the cob or even gross circus peanuts that Mabel loved for some reason. The more you ask and reflect, the more memories will spill out, and this is truly the important part. Remembering is what keeps lost loved ones alive.


Build and decorate

The next step is to choose a table, a dresser, something on which to set up your ofrenda. Keep it small or go nuts and move furniture around. This is where you can get creative, and there’s no wrong way because this is a personal dedication. Look through photos of Mexican ofrendas and you will see different sizes, some inside, some outside, and some built upon graves in cemeteries. If you want tiers, add some different boxes. Throw on a tablecloth, blanket or sheet. Your loved ones photos, objects and food will be arranged on the blankets. You can add incense or additional decorations. There are some meaningful offerings you can gather as well.


Traditional offerings you can add to the ofrenda:

Photographs– Photos of the lost loved ones along with their belongings or an object to represent their interests.

Food and Drinks– The souls can enjoy their favorites from when they were alive. Water will quench the thirst of a tired soul, and fruits are also commonly placed on ofrendas.

Cempasúchil/Marigolds– “The flower of the dead”, whose scent can guide the souls back. Put them in a vase, make garlund, or arrange just the petals.

Calaveras de Azucar/Sugar Skulls– Sculptures made from sugar molded into skulls, these can be made with a name of the lost loved one and represent both death and the sweetness of life. Large sugar skulls are decorative but smaller ones can be eaten.

Pan de Muerto/Bread of the dead– A sweet bread baked with the shape of bones on top, different throughout regions. Mine is topped with orange zest and sugar. This can feed a soul after their long journey back.

Papel Picado– Banners of tissue paper carefully cut into designs with words and images. It can represent the fragility of life, or the banner’s movement can represent the presence of a soul.

Candles– The flame of a candle can represent hope and faith.

Salt-It can represent the continuance of life.

Esqueletos/Skeletons– Much different from Halloween skeletons, Day of the Dead skeletons are colorful and comical. They often wear clothes as they did when they were alive, and are meant to bring joy.

When you are ready to arrange everything on your ofrenda, take your time. Think about the memories behind the objects and food. Really look at the faces in the photos and let yourself feel the complex blend of emotions. You are grieving their loss, you are admiring their strengths, you are imagining what they went through. You are celebrating their life, laughing at stories you remember or ones your family has retold.


Retell the stories again

Maybe you have children in your family. Show them the ofrenda you have built, or let them add to it. Show them photos, and retell the stories. Let them taste some of the foods you have placed. Make an old recipe together. We make tortillas and applesauce. And we won’t forget Uncle Greg’s party cheese and bugles. Maybe your children are grieving too, and they need the experience more than you realize. This is all part of Día de Los Muertos.
   

Let the ofrenda grow

Every year our ofrenda gets a little larger. This is partly due to losing more loved ones, another Uncle this year. But it is also because I enjoy the connection of learning about another family member and adding that devotion.
This year my Great Aunt Jo Nell has a new place near her parents. She died at age 14. I was able to sit with my grandparents and hear about how she loved to tease my grandpa and play double dutch. My mom brought out photos I had never seen, of Jo Nell as a baby and a beautiful young girl. She even still has her old soap collection with funny little animals and ornate flowers. I’m reminded of the strength and sorrow my grandma has gone through for 68 years since losing her sister.


Now it’s your turn

I encourage you to go out and try this. Find a way to celebrate and honor your lost loved ones in your own way. Build an entire ofrenda, or just start by calling your granddaughter or grandparent, or digging out old photos. Go to your favorite Mexican bakery and buy your favorite pan dulces, and share them with your kids, while you describe how there was always a plate of these at your grandparents house.

Share it with us!
We want to see what you make and do. We want to hear the stories. We want to see the way you celebrate and honor your lost loved ones. Share at #myCMAstudio

About the author
Renee Zamora is a Columbus artist who works with printmaking, mixed media and found objects. Her time is pretty much consumed by being a mom and home- school teacher, therefore her current art is intertwined into family traditions or inspired by daily life. She is also the co-owner of Las Primas Handmade, specializing in handmade sugar skulls, ofrendas, headbands, piñatas, prints, edible treats and more.

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Related Events

DAY OF THE DEAD 2020- VIRTUAL COMMUNITY EVENT
Sunday, November 1, 10am-4pm
Facebook Live

Latino Arts for Humanity is moving their annual Day of the Dead festival from Greenlawn Cemetery to a virtual celebration on Facebook Live. The celebration will include performances and children’s educational art activities, including a traditional ofrenda, Aztec dancers, art exhibition, face painting and live music. 

Pick up a Free Children’s Art Kits for the Day of the Dead activity available for pick-up
Saturday, October 31, 3-5pm at 400 W. Rich Studios, 400 W. Rich St.  

Plus, don’t miss their two Day of the Dead exhibitions at: 
Global Gallery, 3535 N. High Street, on view through the end of October 2020
ROYGBIV, 435 W. Rich St., on view through November 7, 2020

Please visit their Facebook page for more details.

 

Day of the Dead from a CMA Member’s Perspective


This year as the Columbus Museum of Art celebrates the Day of the Dead, we asked CMA Member
Stella Villalba to tell us more about the holiday and how she celebrates.

“Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away
I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you
Each night we are apart”


Cempasúchil, the Aztec marigold is used in Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

In 2017, the world was introduced to the song Remember Me written by Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez in the beloved Disney Pixar movie Coco. The movie and this unforgettable song entered the lives of families around the world as they either learn about the Day of the Death or as they got ready to celebrate it as a family and as a community. Most people would say that when they hear this song, they can either feel a knot on their throats while others give in completely to the tears. The movie Coco helped the world understand why The Day of the Death is such a loved celebration which roots goes back to ancient Mesoamerica (Mexico and Northern Central America). The ofrenda is a temporary altar to honor those who have died. This ofrenda may include photos of families and friends who are deceased, papel picado or paper banners, bread, candles, and their loves’ favorite food or snacks. For cultures that observe and celebrate The Day of the Death, this is a celebration of life, stories, honor and traditions. Families gather, they sing songs, fill their souls with music, words and stories. Today we carry the traditions started by indigenous groups including Aztec, Maya and Toltec. Ancient Mesoamericans viewed death as part of the journey of life. They believed that new life came from death.


Puebla, Mexico 2016. The city adorns every corner in preparation for the Day of the Death.

In 2020, the world experiences a global pandemic and all of a sudden, our own little world, as we know it, came to a halt in early March. One Friday morning, teachers and students everywhere were gathering their belongings, whatever books were available, packing school supplies and notebooks. “I’ll see you soon” we would say to each other not understanding those words at all. Some children cried because their safety blanket of being in school just got stripped away from them. Other children left confused while families and guardians rushed to the store to buy food before a lockdown. When the lockdown started, we didn’t know it was just the beginning of a long grieving process. Collectively, we mourn hugging and seeing our love ones, sharing a meal with friends, visiting families. We mourn getting dressed up to go out with girlfriends, we mourn singing happy birthday in real time and not through a screen. We mourn holding each other without thinking Covid19 could be in the air. We mourn children gathering close to each other for story time. We mourn the graduation celebration that never happened, the summer festivals that made us feel alive, and the games that never started. We mourn the lives of those who left us in 2020. Together, as it never happened before, we cried, we collectively got hurt…for different reasons, but we all did. 


Ofrendas are altars created as a way to remember loved oneS that passed away. This is one I keep for my dad who passed away in 2019. I like to think that we have coffee together every morning.

As I reflect on what the Ancient Mesoamericans believed, that new life came from death, I can’t help but hold onto hope as we move closer to the beginning of a new calendar year. What does hope look like for you? What does it mean in your life? What seeds are you planting these last three months of 2020 that you hope to harvest in 2021? What are you holding on and what are you letting go? What or who are you honoring? 

As we get ready to celebrate the Day of the Death, I go back to the song Remember Me as it reminds us that we are all doing the best that we can, in the limited ways that we can be. And I also choose to hold on to our ancestors’ wisdom who reminds us that death is not the end. It the start of new beginnings. 

“Know that I’m with you
The only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Remember me”


Stella Villalba is an Educator, Writer, Activist, Reader and Certified Life Coach

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Related Events

Community Conversation on Loss
Sunday, October 25, 2020 at 2PM
Free on Zoom

Click here to register

How do we find meaning and discover hope in the face of loss without resolution? What does it mean to be living through a collective experience of grief? Join CMA and community partners in an honest and meaningful conversation about ambiguous loss, grief, resilience and the origins of Día de los Muertos

Participants are invited to bring a photo or object that represents a loss they’re grieving this year.

This virtual program includes a panel discussion and opportunities to reflect and explore in small breakout groups. Before the panel discussion, Lori Guth, Yoga Therapist, will lead us through a series of centering and grounding exercises derived from yoga and meditation that anyone can do. 

DAY OF THE DEAD 2020- VIRTUAL COMMUNITY EVENT
Sunday, November 1, 10am-4pm

Facebook Live

Latino Arts for Humanity is moving their annual Day of the Dead festival from Greenlawn Cemetery to a virtual celebration on Facebook Live. The celebration will include performances and children’s educational art activities, including a traditional ofrenda, Aztec dancers, art exhibition, face painting and live music. 

Pick up a Free Children’s Art Kits for the Day of the Dead activity available for pick-up Sunday, October 25, 12-2pm at Diamonds Ice Cream, 5461 Bethel Rd
Saturday, October 31, 3-5pm at 400 W. Rich Studios, 400 W. Rich St.  

Plus, don’t miss their two Day of the Dead exhibitions at: 
Global Gallery, 3535 N. High Street, on view through the end of October 2020
ROYGBIV, 435 W. Rich St., on view through November 7, 2020

Please visit their Facebook page for more details.

Young Duarte’s Folklore #MyCMAStudio Challenge

Duarte uses a younger version of himself to tell the story of how he navigates through the creative community. Young Duarte goes in and out of portals through dreams that can be followed with folklore. Come along with young Duarte as he goes to CMA.
If an artwork could talk, what story do you think it would tell?

Gather your pencils and paper plus any boxes, toy soldiers, game pieces, or toys to create your world. We will explore folklore, and use these props to tell your own story. The wonder of creating folklore, is that you can start with your own experience. Your imagination is the key to making an adventure come to life.

What kind of character are you? What costume would you wear? What time period would you experience? What age would you be? What powers would you possess? How would you like your story to unfold?

After you collect these items, you can set up your space. Move things around until you’re happy with how they look. Create your character and have fun in your space.

Find a CMA Studio Challenge that speaks to you and share your creations on social media by tagging #myCMAstudio.

Pick up a Studio in a Box with all the supplies and materials needed to aid you in our weekly challenges or allow our CMA educators to guide kids 1- 8th grade in a free online Studio Workshop.
#myCMAstudio is a digital version of our drop- in program, Open Studio. Which is currently unavailable to the public due to Covid-19, and part of CMA’s JPMorgan Chase Center for Creativity Studio to explore ideas, solve creative challenges, and collaborate with friends and family.

Artwork and prompt created by Richard Duarte Brown in partnership with Art in House by the Ohio Alliance of Art Education.

— Richard Duarte Brown, known as Duarte, is a master artist with the TRANSIT ARTS Youth Arts Program and the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education’s Art in the House Program. For more than 30 years, Duarte has dedicated his talents to helping young people in Columbus, Ohio through countless programs including CAPACITY (CAPA’s Youth Arts Program), the Short Stop Youth Center, the King Arts Complex, Ohio Alliance for Arts Education (and formerly GCAC’s) Artists-in-Schools program, GCAC’s Children of the Future, Ebony Boys, Art Safe and VSA Ohio. More than my Brother’s Keeper, Duarte has also worked as a high school art instructor at the Arts and College Preparatory Academy in Columbus. Currently, he serves as a resident artist for Whitehall City Schools and Berne Union Schools in the Village of Sugar Grove, Ohio. His murals can be seen throughout the city, bringing comfort and inspiration to countless viewers.

DIY Gallery Fun – Cell Phone Scavenger Hunt

We are always getting great ideas from our visitors, like this one shared by our docent Wendy Johnson. A while back, Wendy came upon a lively scene with a mother and her teenaged sons, playing a game of their own invention. In this guest blog, she explains how to play the game, which playfully supports careful observation and invites lots of extensions. 

Treasure Hunt
Wendy, along with Sheryl Ellcessor and Kathleen Kidwell, in the reopened CMA. Wendy, Sheryl, and Kathleen have been CMA docents for 10 years.

Create your own Treasure Hunt
What’s the treasure? You choose. CMA galleries are filled with treasures.

Here’s who and what you need

At least one family member or other person in your social bubble – you’ll be trading cell phones

2 cell phones

CMA’s amazing art

Here’s how to begin

One person/group are the Clue Makers. They choose the treasures and create clues

The other person/group are the Treasure Hunters

Set your phone timers for 15 minutes and decide on a meeting place

Clue Makers:

Choose a work of art that interests you

Take a photo of a detail in the art (no flash please). This is your clue for your first art treasure

Continue to find art and create clues

Remember where you found your art treasures!

Treasure Hunters:
While Clue Makers are creating your Treasure Hunt, you can relax, stroll through the Sculpture Garden, have a snack in the café, shop in the Museum Store, spend time with art – Just no spying on the Clue Makers!

When you reconvene, hand the phone with the photo clues over to the Treasure Hunters, who will search for the details you found. Once a detail is found, talk about what drew you to that detail – what makes it a “treasure” for you?

HAVE FUN!

Wendy Johnson is one of 120 CMA Docents whose mission and joy is to engage museum visitors in meaningful conversation and to encourage visitors to make personal connections with the art of CMA.

Hair Inspiration  #MyCMAStudio Challenge 

Today’s Studio challenge is inspired by a subject very near and dear to my heart. Hair! I really love hair! There are so many shapes, lines, textures and colors to explore. It has been a major part of my artwork over the last 16 years. Here are a few examples of how I have a lot of fun finding different ways to paint/create hair.

Left: April Sunami, Precious, 2016 & Modern Nefertiti, 2007 

Can you create different hairstyles using lines?

You can use whatever materials you have available, but you mainly need something to draw with (pencil/pen/marker)  and paper. 

Try experimenting with different lines to represent hair. Add as little or much detail to the face as you would like.

For a fun twist you can collage faces from magazines or newspapers!

Find a CMA Studio Challenge that speaks to you and share your creations on social media by tagging #myCMAstudio. 

#myCMAstudio is a digital version of our drop- in program, Open Studio. Which is currently unavailable to the public due to Covid-19, and part of CMA’s JPMorgan Chase Center for Creativity Studio to explore ideas, solve creative challenges, and collaborate with friends and family. 

Pick up a Studio in a Box with all the supplies and materials needed to aid you in our weekly challenges or allow our CMA educators to guide kids 1- 8th grade in an free online Studio Workshop

Artwork and prompt created by April Sunami in partnership with Art in House by the Ohio Alliance of Art Education. 

April Sunami is a professional visual artist primarily focusing on mixed-media painting and installation. She earned her Master of Arts Degree in Art History from Ohio University and her Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Ohio State University. Sunami is also an award-winning installation artist through the 2012 Columbus Art Pop-Up Project sponsored by the Greater Columbus Arts Council. Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums including the Columbus Museum of Art, National African America Museum and Cultural Center and the Southern Ohio Museum. Sunami is married to writer and philosopher Christopher Sunami. They both live in Columbus, OH and co-parent two bright and imaginative kids.

 

Picture Books  #MyCMAStudio Challenge

I love picture books even though I haven’t been a kid in a long time. What I love most are all the different ways that artists use materials to create pictures that help tell a story. Some artists create illustrations using paint, pastel chalks, ink, markers, paper and even fabrics. When children are too young to read they will often look at the pictures or illustrations in a book to tell the story. The pictures usually include images that hint at what the words are on the page. 

The picture I created is a memory from my childhood of summers spent at my grandmothers, playing outdoors and having lots of fun. How can you tell the season in my picture? How are the children dressed? What do the colors tell you? My picture was created with construction paper, bits of paper towel for the clothing and a magazine clipping to make the sun. I decided to use simple shapes for my picture.

What are some of your own memories that you could illustrate? Maybe a favorite book, family trip, holiday or funny pet story. Come up with your own illustration that tells a story of one of your favorite memories. 

Suggested Materials:
Construction paper 
Magazine 
Napkin or paper towel
Glue stick
Scissors 

Find a CMA Studio Challenge that speaks to you and share your creations on social media by tagging #myCMAstudio. 

#myCMAstudio is a digital version of our drop-in program, Open Studio, which is currently unavailable to the public due to Covid-19, and part of CMA’s JPMorgan Chase Center for Creativity Studio to explore ideas, solve creative challenges, and collaborate with friends and family. 

Pick up a Studio in a Box with all the supplies and materials needed to aid you in our weekly challenges or allow our CMA educators to guide kids 1- 8th grade in an online Studio Workshop

Artwork and prompt created by Wendy Kendrick in partnership with Art in House by the Ohio Alliance of Art Education. 

Wendy is heavily influenced during the early part of her artist career by the work of Romare Bearden, she has applied her years of work with collage and mixed media to her current work with quilted portrait masks.

In 2010 Kendrick was selected by the Arts Council Lake Erie West to travel to the East African country of Tanzania as a U.S. delegate for a women’s artist exchange. In addition, she was invited to speak to college students regarding her artistic journey at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

Kendrick received her B.A. in Visual Studies from Dartmouth College and has furthered her studies through additional coursework taken at the Dayton Art Institute, Columbus College of Art and Design and Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS). Her work has been featured at the King Arts Complex, Burnell R. Roberts Triangle Gallery at Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio), Star Arts Gallery, Ohio Craft Museum, the Rhodes Office Tower, Joyce Gordon Gallery (Oakland, California), The Shot Tower Gallery and Richard M. Ross Art Museum (Delaware, Ohio). Her work appears in the recent publications, the Columbus Book Project, Yours for Race and Country: Reflections on the Life of Colonel Charles Young and Visioning Human Rights in the New Millennium. Currently Kendrick serves as Lead Artist with the Art in the House Program(OAAE sponsored) at St.Stephens Community House and Windsor Stem Academy.