JSMA cheers a decade of Dia de los Muertos celebrations

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s Día de los Muertos celebration, which began in Eugene 37 years ago.

Over the years, the event has grown to two nights of live music, art, poetry, traditional Mexican ofrendas — or altars — ceramics, prints, paintings and art activities for all ages. More than 1,500 people attend annually and K-12 schools throughout Oregon get to experience the ofrendas through school tours.

In 2008, the museum formed a partnership with Armando Morales from Oak Hill School, Rebeca Urhausen from Adelante Si, and students from Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlán de UO to celebrate this traditional holiday at the university. The event also is now co-sponsored by UO Latinx Strategy Group, Instituto Estatal de la Cultura de Guanajuato, Instituto Estatal de Atención al Migrante Guanajuatense y sus familias, and the UO Division of Equity and Inclusion.

This year, two master paintings are also on view at the art museum through the summer 2019: Diego Rivera’s “La ofrenda,” or “The Offering,” and Rufino Tamayo’s “Perro aullando a la luna,” or “Dog Howling at the Moon.” The paintings are on loan to the museum for one year from the collection of Art Bridges, a recently established nonprofit foundation dedicated to providing institutions across the U.S. access to outstanding works of American art. 

Diego Rivera’s “La ofrenda” presents Mexico’s annual Día de los Muertos celebration of life and death, and Tamayo’s “Perro aullando a la luna” offers an expression of necessity and despair, anguish and rage. Both works bridge the enduring presence of Mexico’s ancient beliefs and art with the universal human condition.

Both works will be used for academic outreach to UO classes in English and Spanish.

“Día de los Muertos is a festive and thoughtful holiday in Mexico and some parts of Central and South America,” said Cheryl Hartup, the museum’s associate curator of Latin American art. “The unique tradition is celebrated by LatinXs and ChicanXs in the United States and an ever-increasing general public.”

Debbie Williamson Smith, the museum’s communications manager, said the institution is inclusive and welcoming, offering Spanish language material in all the galleries as well as bilingual tours, and looks for ways to partner with the LatinX communities across campus.