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Celebrating lives well-lived at Dia de los Muertos festival

By by dianna wray/
Oct. 31, 2012 at 5:31 a.m.

Artist Felecia Vela, 27, of Victoria, is making non-traditional altars to honor her deceased grandmothers. Vela is incorporating paper marigolds,  which she explained is a traditional flower for the holiday, which symbolize the fragility of life.

Felicia Vela studied her altars with a practiced eye, examining the two mannequins with their black and white painted faces and bright-colored clothes.

Vela and other artists were busy building their interpretations of altars honoring loved ones for Dia de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated in Mexico on Nov. 1-2.

"A lot of people think it's Mexican Halloween, and it's not," Vela said.

The day is about honoring your loved ones, she said.

Traditionally, people gather at the graves of their loved ones to build altars in their memory. The altars will feature pictures and food, drinks and other things that the person enjoyed in life. Children eat sugar candy skulls, and it's a chance to help make people comfortable with death while celebrating life, Vela said.

The Nave Museum has celebrated Dia de los Muertos for more than a decade, but they only started holding this festival a few years ago, Amy Leissner, the museum's executive director, said.

This year, the festival will include face painting, live music, a car show and other activities. People are invited to build their own altars beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday in De Leon Plaza in honor of loved ones or public figures who have died begin. Those attending the festival will have the chance to bid in a silent auction on retablo, a piece of art created in memory of a loved one, at the museum. A march of remembrance will be at 11 a.m. from St. Mary's Church to the Nave with a second march set for dusk.

Altars will be set up at the Nave Museum, but Vela and other artists are installing a display of nontraditional alters at One O'Connor Plaza.

"These are not traditional at all," she said, gesturing to two altars made using mannequins with painted faces that resemble the sugar candy skull. The mannequins are placed opposite each other, with sweeping skirts and bright-colored decorations clustered around them.

In the coming days, Vela will gather together things that remind her of her two grandmothers - a glass of a favorite drink, a cigarette the same brand that the other used to smoke placed on the altar.

She might add pictures of other family members or anything else that will call up memories of these two women who had such an impact on her life.

On Saturday, Vela's family will come to the Dia de los Muertos festival to see her latest creation in honor of her grandmothers.

Her grandmothers always encouraged her creativity, believed that she had talent and were there for her. Vela doesn't like to talk about the days they died or even remember when it happened. That's not what these altars are about. Here, her creation celebrates their memories, to honor how they lived not when they died.

"This is a healing process for me. That's a big reason my heart is so into this festival," she said. "Remembering them is a happy time. I get to show it in a beautiful way."



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