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Arts & Activities - Page 34

T The Skeletons’ Halloween by Simone Bourque 36 october 2010 raveling through Mexico, I marveled at the rich history, culture and traditions of our southern neighbor. Curious about the abundance of folk-art representations of skeletons, I pursued questions and readings until I had a better idea of the origins of this iconography and its evolution from preColumbian to present-day Mexico. I discovered that the Mexican printer José Guadalupe Posada’s (1851–1913) numerous prints of calaveras gave vast popularity to these skeleton figures through his satirical and politically critical renditions of skeletons engaged in daily activities. They are oftentimes represented in festive and playful posturing. Calaveras have now become the most original trait of Mexican folk art. As I learned more, I became particularly fascinated by the elaborate rituals celebrated by Mexicans on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), celebrated November 1–2. I was told that in rural areas, religion remains central to the celebrations, as compared to contemporary urban traditions, which have a more secular aspect. Families visit the graves of their departed loved ones at the cemetery. They bring special foods for the returning souls who will visit on those nights. Food, music and drink are also brought for the living to these night vigils. In certain areas of Mexico, special toys are made on this occasion; skeletons figure predominantly among these toys. The skeletons are usually engaged in mortal tasks and sport the headgear of different characters, elegant and modest. A lesson plan was sprouting in my mind. I would introduce the Mexican traditions celebrated on Dia de los Muertos, and Posada’s prints would serve to inspire the compositions. I could imagine my students drawing skeletons—rather than humans—attending a Halloween party. The skeletons could, as in Mexico, sport hats, be partially clad and doing what any mortal would do at a party. At the beginning of the year, I periodically have my students do quick gesture drawings with charcoal on newsprint. The children model, taking turns mimicking dancing, walking and interacting. These sketches are used as a reference for later compositions. In early October, stores start promoting Halloween goods and children begin to look forward to class parties and trick-or-treating. At the dime store, I bought life-size cardboard skeletons with moveable joints. I hung five of them throughout the classroom with their joints bent in different positions. What an uproar when my fifth-graders entered the room! We studied the shape > > Melissa Alex x www.ar tsandactivities.com

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