Litsa and Eleanor build a Day of the Dead Altar

General / General : Eleanor Haley

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Do you know what 'Day of the Dead' is?

In brief, 'Day of the Dead' is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures on November 1st and 2nd (in connection with 'All Saints Day'). Obviously 'Day of the Dead' is the English translation; the real name is 'Dia de los Muertos'. On this holiday, family and friends gather to pray for, honor, and remember those who have died. There are many traditions associated with this day, but one of the main traditions includes building private altars honoring the dead using sugar skulls, marigolds, favorite foods and beverages, and possessions of the deceased.

creating my heART at

A blogger friend of ours, Kara Jones aka Mother Henna, announced she was having a 'Day of the Dead HeART Trade', which works like this: 20 artists sign up to create 20 'Day of the Dead' themed works of art. The artists mail their work back to Mother Henna, who will then sort the art and send contributing artists one piece of said artwork. Make sense!?

Well, you know Litsa and I are over the moon about grief and creativity so obviously we had to sign up! I mean really, what could go wrong?

Turns out A LOT. You know Litsa, me, crafting, and deadlines... We actually don't mix. Never have. Probably never will. Of course, we struggled to find inspiration and this led to procrastination x 30. When we finally decided on a concept, it was the eleventh hour and we could tell execution was going to require some pretty solid crafting skills.

Our Inspiration:

lauren simonutti inspiration

We've referenced late artist, Lauren Simonutti, here on the blog before. She was a photographer who suffered from bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, and lived as a recluse in her Baltimore row home. She lived her last years in essential isolation, a lifestyle which forced her to turn the camera on herself. She created some incredibly haunting self-portraits. She also did lead a somewhat active life online, sharing her photos through her blog among other platforms and selling handmade books. Lauren died in April of 2012 "from complications of her illness." Since her death, Litsa has kept an occasional eye on her deserted house and we have, on more than one occasion, pondered what will become of her home, her artwork, and all her other belongings.

Naturally, I'm telling you all this because Litsa and I decided to build a 'Day of the Dead' altar for Lauren Simonutti and then to photograph it for the 'art trade' before finally leaving it on her front doorstep. Naturally.

The Process:

We set out to build the altar on a Sunday in my backyard. As Litsa and I headed out to Lowe's and Michael's, we brainstormed ideas. We had printed a few of Lauren's photographs and also had some candles, a crate, salt, and some water. We lamented the fact that we didn't have any of her belongings, but joked that—because she liked 'found objects'—we ought to go dumpster diving and find something cool to incorporate.

First stop, Lowe's for marigold-ish flowers.

buying marigolds at lowe's

Next stop, Michael's. Holy cow, is that a bird bath/found object sitting right in the middle of the parking lot!? Let's just pop that in the trunk of Litsa's car...

bird bath/found object from michael's parking lot

The Construction:

constructing our day of the dead altar
constructing our day of the dead altar

Alright, time to photograph our masterpiece.

our day of the dead altar
Please don't ask what my children are wearing.
A view from above.

Now to leave the altar at Lauren's home...


And our final work of art. Artwork had to be "flat-ish," so we decided to put our photo of the altar together with a quote from Lauren's blog—something that she wrote about her home.

"Upon my return, I looked at my home as if it belonged to a stranger. I live a solitary existence, so the things I had left, as I had left them, were all that remained to speak for me. Casually misplaced, awry, askew and adrift, arranged, displayed, collected. Collecting dust. I do not remember having put it all together, though I know I had done. So I decided to let the rooms have their say. Memory of who I once was. Parts of the best parts of me. The house, my home, mirrors me. Tragedy in reverse. It had fallen apart before I found it. I am falling back together" - Lauren Simonutti, 1968-2012

And that's our story. The End.

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7 Comments on "Litsa and Eleanor build a Day of the Dead Altar"

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  1. Lynn  November 2, 2019 at 11:06 am Reply

    I do this, not on a set day but permanently and there are no requirements. My heart tells me what belongs on that shelf with his pictures with his also deceased grandparents. He usually gets more attention on his Birthday and Anniversary when we take some of his ashes to place somewhere that he would have enjoyed.

  2. carl vanny  April 6, 2019 at 10:47 am Reply

    great and kind powerful man who help me reunite my relationship and restored happiness back to my relationship gbojiespiritualtemple@ gmail. com

  3. Yam Kahol  November 1, 2015 at 4:19 pm Reply

    Love you guys! I wonder how it feels to do this?

    Don’t you think sometimes we (read, some of us) suffer for not having any rituals? Their lack creates a hole, I think.

    Or maybe it’s just because in grief, we are just desperate for something, anything, to hold onto. We can look around and see others with their rituals – prayers, chants, altars on day of the dead, and we just have….a lack.

    That’s why I wondered how it felt adopting another’s ritual.

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