Celebrating death and life

Danny Kopp used his long reach to help set a piece in the middle of the altar as it was being built Wednesday evening. Kopp is the Technical Director/Facility Manager for Jasper Community Arts.

In connection with the multicultural elements of the area, the Jasper Community Arts is hosting a Diá de Muertos altar at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center.

The large display located in the lounge area between the two galleries was built with the assistance of volunteers from Jasper Community Arts, Asociación Latinoamericana del Sur de Indiana (ALASI), student members of the Jasper High School Latinos Unidos and the Southridge High School Los Raiders and the VUJ Jasper Latino Institute, as well as community members.

Food, aromatic incense, candles and tequila are among the many items added to the altar that the spirits may appreciate.

The altar hosts images and mementos from loved ones who have passed away in an effort to attract them for a special reunion believed to occur during the November holiday. The altar also holds many significant elements representing the passage of life to death and connections between the living and spiritual worlds.

Largely practiced in Mexico and Latin American countries, altars are usually handmade in preparation for the celebration of the Diá de Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1st and 2nd. Some families maintain an altar honoring the deceased in their homes year-round.

During the annual November celebration, the barrier between the living and dead is said to be at its thinnest, and the altars act as guides, enticements and remembrances of those loved ones who have passed away.

The public is invited to add their own mementos or framed images to the public altar on display at the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center, as well as visit the layered and symbolic altar.

Madeline Stevens, 7, of Huntingburg, placed a handmade frame of family members on the altar Wednesday evening. Madeline is in the Huntingburg Elementary dual immersion program. Students in the program split the day learning in English and Spanish.
Photos of deceased loved ones line the paths to the altar. The photos allow the loved ones to know they are welcome to return to the altar. The public is invited to add their own photographs or mementos to the altar, which will be on display until November 15.
Evelyn Rivas explained that her grandparents liked cats, so she decided to add a cat who has “passed” symbolizing one they had to the altar so they can make their way back with her grandparents.
The altar holds many symbolic elements: the flowers provide an enticing scent to attract the spirits, the colorful sugar skulls represent the underworld, the butterflies accompany the spirits during the festival, which occurs during their annual migration south, and the colorful banners represent the wind or air. The holiday is a mixture of indigenous religious beliefs and Christianity.