Last Sunday, Walla Walla residents were invited to the Gesa Power House Theatre to partake in the town’s third annual Día de los Muertos celebration. During this event various community members, including many Whitman students and faculty, arranged and set up many activities for visitors, such as face painting, decorating sugar skulls, carving designs on freely provided blocks, and large-scale printmaking.
The event honors the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or the ‘Day of the Dead,’ a day of remembrance for friends and family who have passed on which is traditionally celebrated at the start of November.
A number of community members attended the event, which occurred over a two-day period (5 p.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 24 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 25), and Whitman students were among them. First-year Maddy Gold, who had not participated in either of Walla Walla’s prior celebrations, was drawn to the event with the prospect of seeing “all the art in the community,” as well as “getting out of the Whitman bubble.”
“It’s a great way to engage in the community,” said Gold, who went on to say that “it’s really cool to support members of the Whitman community.”
Discussing her plans for the event, Gold noted that she hoped to buy an “awesome” shirt at the event, as well as potentially make one of her own, using a design she was carving on a provided block depicting a skeleton playing the guitar.
But while Gold and other community attendees carved their own small designs, Whitman printmaking students were working on a similar project at a much larger scale.
Discussing her beginning printmaking students, Whitman art professor Nicole Pietrantoni says, “We basically print these giant woodblocks all day long in the middle of the street.” The students use a steamroller because the wood blocks they use for their designs, inspired by Día de Los Muertos themes, are so large that they “can’t fit them on any of [the] printing presses here at Whitman.”
In addition to the physical necessity, Pietrantoni notes that “it’s a nice way for us to bring our art out into the streets and into the community.” Many of the pieces will be sold in an exhibition in the Fouts Center on October 30th.
One of Pietrantoni’s students, Tehani Louis-Perkins, was very excited by the opportunity to make art in such a unique manner. “Being able to make art from this way that I’ve never experienced before, using this big steamroller to press this big block to make art…will be pretty interesting,” Louis-Perkins said.
Professor Pietrantoni, who has been involved with the event all three of its years of operation, was optimistic about the celebration’s potential to impact the community in a big way. “What I love is that it brings out a really diverse part of our community here in Walla Walla…I heard someone the other day say ‘there’s not a lot of diversity in Walla Walla.’ Well, actually there is.”
Elaborating on the point of diversity, Pietrantoni said “This is an event that really celebrates and…honors some Latino history and we see a lot of Latino people partaking in the event and participating, bringing their families and children.”
“I think there’s a lot of good things,” Pietrantoni went on, “that come out of…celebrating it [Día de los Muertos] and asking…complex questions about ‘What does the Day of the Dead look like here in the U.S., in Walla Walla, Washington?’” According to Pietrantoni, though the festival is very different than the celebrations in the holiday’s native Mexico, the holiday is still worth acknowledgment and observation, and the festival tries to remain true to the spirit of the holiday.
Maddy Gold agreed, saying “I would suggest it to anybody. It’s a really good way to celebrate Día de los Muertos.” Similarly, Louis-Perkins suggested that “even if you’re not making prints, it’ll be pretty exciting” just to volunteer or participate.
As to whether or not the event will return next year, Professor Pietrantoni said that “[a]s long as all of our partners continue to be interested, excited, and engaged in doing it, I’d say the answer is yes,” assuming, of course, that “the students want to keep making giant prints, too.”
To watch a video of the festival, visit The Pioneer’s website.