Tag Archives: Bare Hands Gallery

Alabama Dia de los Muertos Celebrates Quince Años!


Dia de los Muertos celebrates Quince años!

Dia de los Muertos Alabama, presented by Bare Hands Gallery, celebrated 15 years this year!  I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again…after my beloved Fiesta, this is my second favorite festival of the year.  Fiesta board members have always felt a kinship with DOD Alabama going back to our fifth year in existence.  That was the year we “discovered” one another as each of our festivals grew and that was the year we decided to support one another.

This festival has been looking for a forever home since it lost its original location last year due to the changes in the Birmingham landscape.  The Rotary Trail was completed and it just wasn’t possible to use the same area for a festival this big.  Last year, the festival temporarily moved to Cahaba Brewery and it was packed.  After the crowd that showed up, they knew they needed more space so this year they secured Pepper Place for the event.

Papel Picado lines 2nd Avenue South between the main altar area and the main stage at DOD 2017

The entrance was at 3rd Avenue South with sponsors lining the left hand side.  A portion of 2nd Avenue South was closed off to house the main stage on one side and the food court on the other.  The main altar site was in the middle between the two in a large parking area.  It was so beautiful and reminiscent of the original location.  Two large brick walls surrounded the space and were used to hang murals and other décor.  Chairs were set up around the site with fire pits as was done in the old location.  I can remember years when it was so cold that those fire pits were a God-send!  Lights were strung between the walls and papel picado was everywhere!  The Mercado was in the parking lot of Pepper Place and there were so many vendors with beautiful hand crafted items for sale!  I wanted one of everything!

This year, the set up allowed for more space and a better flow to all the event components.  The event was crowded but there was more space to walk around and not feel like you were being walked on or constantly running into someone.

I arrived at 3 p.m. to photograph some of the set up yesterday.  I always like to get there early to do this and then I stay until after sunset to take photos by candlelight and enjoy catching up with friends.  This year I had a meeting to attend from 4 to 7 so  when I got back to the site, the line to enter was down the block!  Luckily, I had pre-purchased my ticket so walked directly up to the entrance and was given my wrist band!  (Lesson to you folks who didn’t plan ahead!)

People watching at DOD is always entertaining and I love the way more and more are painting their faces as sugar skulls and dressing up.  They embrace this event and seem to take the time to understand the reason behind it…why it is important and why it exists.  It’s not just a costume party, it’s a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on and a way to keep their memories alive for ourselves and a way to tell others about them.

There is also such artistic talent in our city and so much of this talent is displayed at this event in the costumes, the unique vendor items and of course, the altar creations.  I am always inspired when I see what is created and moved to tears by at least one thing I see.  This year, there was an altar created to honor the people who have perished in the many natural disasters experienced in 2017.  It was both haunting and moving…

Here are some of my photos from last night…sometimes it’s just easier to tell the story with photographs.  Meanwhile, happy Quince to DOD Alabama…it was a fabulous event! Viva la Vida!

Sugar Skull PJs, Nick & Nora and Target

This is the time of year when I break out my Day of the Dead sugar skull PJs!

IMG_7282I saw these adorable and Nick & Nora Brand PJs at Target several years ago and fell in love!!!  Had to have them…but…could only find a size small nightgown at my local Target.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I HAVE to have a lot of room in my PJs and so a large is my preference…even an XL feels good to lounge around and sleep in and be comfy.  So, I hit up every Target in the area to find a larger size of these cute PJs.  And at the time, that was about 3 stores total!

I eventually found a medium gown and bought it.  Much to my surprise, at my annual cookie exchange party, my sweet friend Denise Koch gave me a sugar skull gown as a Christmas gift!  She said she saw it at Target and immediately thought of me!  So score for TWO sugar skull gowns!!!  (I have such great friends!!!)


IMG_7284The next year, Target carried sugar skull PJs again.  This time coordinated pants and tops, and of course, I went to all the stores looking again.  My husband even got into the act and would stop at Targets when we were traveling out-of-town to help me look.  That year I even found Sugar Skull slippers!

I’ve accumulated quite a few gowns, pants, and tops over the past few years, and in addition to being quite comfy, they are very colorful.  I always see someone wearing these PJs at the Bare Hands Gallery Day of the Dead festival in downtown Birmingham each year.  So…it’s clear I’m not the only one who loves this design and theme!

Target hasn’t carried them for several years now…probably because Nick & Nora label hasn’t made them in a while.  Maybe they are taking a brief break and will come back with a new design one day soon.  I’m hopeful!!!  Would love to see a new design to add to my collection!  Plus, a few of mine are starting to show a little wear!  Fingers crossed for next year!


What Exactly Is Day of the Dead?

IMG_7272Several years ago, I was co-teaching an 8 week Spanish language and culture class.  For the first 15 minutes of each class, I would give the students a look into various aspects of Mexican culture.  This one particular class was right before the local Bare Hands Gallery Day of the Dead festival.  So, I thought the timing was perfect to share the information and invite the class to come out and experience Day of the Dead, Birmingham style!

A few heads in the room nodded as I began to explain Day of the Dead – Día de los Muertos – but for the most part, I saw confused faces…clearly more explanation was needed.  That’s when it hit me and I said.. “How many of you have ever been to decoration day at your church?”  Light bulbs started to go off around the room… “well, Day of the Dead is like the Mexican version of this!”  And suddenly…everyone was nodding and smiling!

IMG_7275One of the questions I got that day was about how similar Day of the Dead (DOD)  seemed to be to Halloween – how maybe it was the Mexican version of Halloween.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  DOD is a celebration of life.  It has nothing to do with witches, goblins, spiders and spider webs.  It is a time to remember our loved one who have passed on.  It doesn’t celebrate death, but it DOES celebrate the lives of our ancestors.

IMG_7276So what are all the sugar skull skeletons about then?  If you look at the traditional Halloween skull vs. the Day of the Dead sugar skull, you’ll notice a definite difference in their expressions – one is a bit menacing while the other has a pleasant expression and is very colorful.  Sugar skulls or “Calaveras,” represent a departed soul and back in the 18th century, the names of the departed were written on the forehead of the skull and placed on the home altar or the gravestone to honor the return of that person’s spirit.

Offerings, or “ofrendas,” are also a part of the celebration.  These are items that were important to the deceased loved one and could be food, drink, a special artifact.  During the class, I asked if they had ever seen tokens or items at local cemeteries and several people said yes.  For instance, teddy bears or special floral arrangements.  So explaining “ofrendas” made more sense when put in those terms.

IMG_7274Speaking of flowers, the flower used for Day of the Dead is the orange marigold, the cempasúchil flower.  It was the flower that the Aztecs used to remember their dead by.  The color is so vibrant and the belief is that it would guide the souls to their homes and altars on this special day.

DOD takes place over two days and coincides with the Catholic All Saints’ Day and all Souls’ Day on November 1 and 2.  November 1 is the day for honoring children and infants or “angelitos,” while November 2 is the day for honoring deceased adults.  If you are in Mexico during the first two days of November, there is no mistaking the power of this holiday.  In Birmingham, Alabama…it is growing in recognition and in the number of people who want to take part in remembrance.

At the end of the class, many of the students stayed to talk more and ask more questions.  I loved being able to share more about DOD and show photos I had taken of the local festival.  Several remarked about how beautiful the altars were and how artistic some people were in their presentations.  One lady remarked how heartfelt it all seemed and thought about trying to create an altar of her own the following year.

I know I saw several of the students at the festival a few weeks later and that made me smile…





Preparing for Día de los Muertos


This year is being called Year of the Mexican Artist at Day of the Dead Birmingham. (Photo from Dia de los Muertos Alabama facebook page.)


This time each year, I receive a number of “chores for the weekend” emails from the Birmingham Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) Festival with great information and lists of ways that volunteers can help each week.  Things like puppet painting, sign hand lettering, hang butterflies, work on animal altar, restore old parade umbrellas…  I love seeing these emails because it adds to the excitement that DOD is approaching!  This little festival has grown into a powerhouse and is in its 12th year. Born the same year as Fiesta Birmingham it is a highlight of the fall for me after Fiesta is over.  I get to jump from one colorful event to another and both Latino themed to boot!

As I mentioned, DOD started the same year as Fiesta but I have to confess, I didn’t know about its existence until about year 3 when a story hit the Birmingham News entertainment section about the event and why it was created.  I was intrigued…a Day of the Dead Festival in Birmingham, AL??!!  I remember thinking – this is so incredible – and I also remember thinking what an education this festival could provide to our community at large – much like what we were trying to do with Fiesta and the different cultures within the Latino community.  DOD is another aspect to Latino culture that is not quite understood, but this festival is determined to make it understood!


During the early days of the festival, this alley behind the gallery was filled with remembrances and tributes…so much to see and so many touching photos and artifacts.

At the time, DOD was housed each year inside and around Bare Hands Gallery in downtown Birmingham.  One day at lunch (this was in 2006),  I decided I had to go by and meet Wendy Jarvis, the Director of the gallery.  Turns out, she had wanted to meet me too so we could discuss our mutual festivals and how we might partner!  Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?!


Tracy Martin puts some finishing touches to the Spider Martin altar when it was in the alley behind Bare Hands Gallery.

I found out more about DOD and its creation that day.  Local artist Tracy Martin wanted to find a way to honor her late father, civil rights photographer James “Spider” Martin, when she and some close friends turned the gallery courtyard into a huge altar and memorial wall.  This was in 2002.  The celebration was expanded – and “born” – the following year and other artists and members of the community were invited to make their own altars and “ofrendas.”  Wendy said as the celebration continued each year, she saw it as an opportunity to expand the gallery culturally, especially with the growing Hispanic community in Birmingham.

So that year – 2006 – was the year Wendy, Isabel Rubio – Executive Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA), and I met to discuss how we would partner to bring more Latinos to the event.  A women’s group from HICA took part in the celebration and built small altars at the event and brought family to celebrate a tradition they would have normally celebrated in Mexico.  Since that time, HICA has always had a booth and altar display at DOD and become a true partner of the celebration.

That year, DOD also participated in Fiesta by having a booth in our non-profit village and showcasing some of the art and sugar skulls that would be on display at DOD.  It was a great way for Bare Hands Gallery and DOD to get the word out – in English and Spanish – to Fiesta attendees, reaching a huge cross-section of the community.

Oh and one more thing…DOD is a photographers dream…you can’t take a bad photograph at this event.  The colors, altars, costumes and entertainment are…do I dare say…to die for!

Here are a few of my own photos from the early days…


Day of the Dead displays behind the gallery. As the event grew this lot behind the gallery became a huge part of the celebration.


Tracy Martin’s tribute altar to her father, Spider Martin.


Thelma and Louise sugar skulls! This was part of a huge display of famous couples – one of my favorites!


One of the most poignant parts of Day of the Dead is the roll call…people can add the names of their loved ones to be read during the celebration.


Enjoying one of the festivals with Wendy Jarvis and my dear friend, Lui Fernandez.


Festival co-founder – Tracy Martin (right) – in one of her many beautiful sugar skull creation costumes.


Always love getting a hug from Festival Co-Founder, Wendy Jarvis at each years event.