Night of the Dead

Grade Range: K-12
Resource Type(s): Artifacts, Primary Sources
Date Posted: 10/27/2008

Though anchored in local Roman Catholic traditions, many of the religious beliefs and symbols of Mexican Americans have roots in indigenous notions about the soul and our universe. Between October 31st and November 2nd, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated with family, decorating home altars and visiting the graves of loved ones. A holiday with much regional and individual variation, it is traditionally an occasion to commemorate parents and grandparents with altars of marigolds, candles, alcohol, skeleton-shaped sweets, and other foods and personal objects favored by the dearly departed. Day of the Dead celebrations were reinvented across many Mexican American communities beginning in the 1970s, as the Chicano movement promoted and readapted Mexican cultural practices. Many artists since then have seized on the visual power of the altar as a conduit for personal and public memory. In the United States, Day of the Dead altars can be found interrogating life and critiquing politics in public places. Contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations have memorialized those who have died from AIDS, gang violence, the civil wars in Central America, and crossing the border. This lithograph, titled Night of the Dead, was originally drawn in ink by Alan Crane in 1958. Alan Horton Crane (1901 1969) was a Brooklyn-born illustrator best known for his landscapes and genre scenes of life in Mexico and New England. This image is part of a series of prints by Alan Crane housed in the Graphic Arts Collection of the National Museum of American History.