“Curandera,” painting by Stephanie Maria. Acrylic on board.

As an art student I considered Halloween to be one of the High Holidays.  The opportunity to create an outrageous costume, become that character, and then party amongst all the other drama-queens was irresistible. My own creations included a bone-collecting witch, Carmen Miranda, and Bride-Gone-Bad, to name a few. A day to revel in all things scary and bizarre was great fun.

Because of my maternal Mexican heritage, I am especially fascinated by Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) which is celebrated on the first of November. This is actually a very sacred day for Mexican families. The emphasis is not on the macabre but on the love and respect for those who have passed on. It is a time when ancestors are remembered by making altars in their honor. Wreaths of marigolds are hung over their graves and their favorite foods are made.


“Coco”, Disney Pixar Animated Movie

Coco, an adorable animation film made by Disney Pixar is a great depiction of the beliefs and traditions of this holiday. I recommend it highly. According to my centenarian Aunt, this pre-Columbian holiday was not celebrated by my maternal grandparents who lived in Mexico, perhaps because of their desire to associate more with the Spanish and Catholic culture. The family moved to El Norte and, typical of many first generations, my mom discarded much of her parents’ traditions.  I, on the other hand, am captivated by the culture of my maternal ancestors and find myself painting images like this one which has distinctly Hispanic themes.

Curandera, the title of my painting, is the Spanish word for a female spiritual healer. I made this painting several years ago. It is inspired by Dia de los Muertos’ dancing skeletons, as well as French Toile fabric (notice the linear drawing of the dog), and a passion for polka-dots. There is no end to the influences that contribute to art and design, consciously or not.

Mexican Cookbook, “Nopalito” by Gonzalo Guzman.

I was listening on the radio to an interview with   famous chef, Gonzalo Guzman, and loved what he said about ever-changing forms of art. He said he dislikes the term “authentic Mexican food” because food is not static. Like the complex and constantly evolving Mexican cuisine, we Americans are a mélange of cultures and traditions. For example before the Americas were discovered, Europe did not have tomatoes. They are indigenous to this side of the Atlantic. Now tomatoes are integral to Italian cuisine! Katrina, the skeleton lady of Dia do los Muertos, the pumpkin, and the sugar skull all originate from Mexico, but who could imagine our great American Halloween Celebration without them?

Catrina Style Sugar Skull