When skulls symbolize life

Nov 1, 2019

The halls of Wareham Middle School and Minot Forest are festooned with unusual decorations: skull paintings decorate the walls and pinata hang from the ceilings. 

The students celebrated Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, on Friday with creative art displays throughout the building. The project featured commemorative art, including animal and human skeleton paintings, clay skulls, and graveyard collages. 

The Day of the Dead, which spans from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, gives people an opportunity to commemorate the lives of loved ones who have died and to welcome their spirits. It's traditionally celebrated in Latin American countries and has more recently been incorporated in the United States by Mexican Americans.

Andrea Ericson, the Unified Arts Department Chair, launched the annual project seven years ago when she first started working at the school. Throughout the whole month of October, students prepare Day of the Dead projects while also exploring the history of the tradition. 

“One of the important things that we try to do in every art project that we do is give students some sort of global context,” said Ericson, who lived in Mexico for three years. “I feel like in the United States the death has a negative connotation but in Mexico, it is more about a celebration of life.” 

Over 500 students took part in the project. One of the participants, Athena Lawson-Barbone said she enjoyed the fact that unlike Halloween, Day of the Dead is not meant to be a sad or frightening holiday, but an uplifting time to remember loved ones who have died.

“I like how everything is so colorful, even though it is associated with death,” said Lawson-Barbone. “Death is not all about sadness — it can be happy too.” 

Another student, Madison Howland, who contributed a clay skull to the project, said she is already looking for the next year’s Mexican holiday. 

“I like how everything is colorful,” said Howland. “There is so much stuff to look at. Maybe next time we will have even more creative projects.”