El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has long been celebrated in central and southern Mexico from October 31 to November 2 to honor those who have passed. Legend has it that the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the deceased come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.
Middle School Spanish students in grades 6-8 have been celebrating The Day of the Dead for approximately 10 years, through an interdisciplinary project that combines art with Spanish language skills. A collaborative effort among the Middle School Spanish teachers and Visual Arts Teacher Holly Clifford, the project highlights heroes of Mexican culture and other deceased family members or friends who were special to the students. These colorful art projects are on display in the Amon G. Carter Foundation Commons within the Mason Middle School.
This year’s display is more spectacular than ever thanks to Spanish Teacher Debby Arnold and Clifford. “I contacted Holly last summer to see how we could collaborate on this project,” Arnold said. “My classroom is not set up for extensive arts and crafts, but I still wanted art incorporated into the project. Holly came up with the idea to create a La Catrina statue as the centerpiece of our show.” La Catrina is the symbol of The Day of the Dead.
“In the past, the Spanish classes had done individual paper mache masks in their classroom. After Debby explained the challenge of doing this in a classroom, I suggested we make a bigger impact with one large cooperative piece," Clifford said. “I saw something similar to the La Catrina sculpture online and thought we could make it even better. Working big has become a theme I have gravitated toward in recent years. The kids are so proud of the impact that size can make.
“I truly enjoyed my students and other students who would come into the classroom to work and then watch Catrina change throughout the process. It was all hands on deck,” she continued. “Tricia Franks helped me with the skirt while Clovis Murphree and Mike Mancini helped me figure out how to get her safely standing.”
“What made this project even more meaningful is that students were given the opportunity to work on paper-mache or paint in Mrs. Clifford’s classroom during recess and at other times,” Arnold said. “Many students took advantage of this opportunity, and we are grateful for their efforts.”
This statue was an add-on piece to the project this year, which includes the grades 6-8 Spanish students doing their own smaller art projects to celebrate the holiday. Sixth-graders designed framed art, seventh-graders painted masks, and eighth-graders created altars that honor a deceased person who was important to them.
“It has been a worthwhile project for the students,” Arnold said, “and I can’t express how much I appreciate the creativity and collaboration of Holly Clifford!”