Fulgencio Lazo uses acrylic paint for most of his artwork. On Sunday, the medium was sand, and his canvas was the floor of the Tacoma Art Museum.
Lazo learned sand painting (tapete de arena) as part of the giant community artwork made annually for the Day of the Dead in his hometown of Oaxaca, Mexico, and shares the craft on a smaller scale for the holiday (Día de los Muertos, Nov. 1 and 2).
In Oaxaca, the sand comes via dump trucks and takes over the main plaza.
The Tacoma piece, one of six Lazo is making across Washington this year, fills the museum lobby floor.
“Your shoes cannot be on it if they have lines,” said 13-year-old Preston Curtice of Bonney Lake. “It can mess up the sand.”
He pointed out the scalloped, brilliant blue edges of the painting, which he said he helped color by sprinkling the pigment onto the sand.
“It’s not that hard,” Preston said.
Start to finish, it took the team of volunteers and Seattle-based artists between six and seven hours, Lazo said.
Artists Mirtha and Victor Gonzalez, who were in Lazo’s group, said Día de los Muertos is a more somber holiday in their hometown of Buenos Aires.
“We don’t celebrate,” Victor Gonzalez said. “It’s a sad day.”
From helping Lazo, the couple said, they’ve learned the Mexican tradition is a celebration.
“It was something new that made us feel much better,” Mirtha Gonzalez said.
That’s why Lazo said he coordinates the paintings.
“Always trying to share our culture, invite people to help,” he said. “It’s trying to explain a little about Day of the Dead, trying to keep that tradition alive.”
Keeping the spirits of deceased loved ones alive is the holiday’s purpose, a group of First Creek Middle School girls explained as they worked on an altar at the museum, a display in honor of relatives and friends who have died.
The museum hosts altars from schools, families and community groups for the holiday. Organizers said 28 groups signed up this year.
The First Creek girls made the altar as part of a Latina club they started at the school, a group they’ve been calling La Rosa (the rose).
Their display had photos of grandparents, an uncle, singer Selena, and 15-year-old friend Hector Hernandez-Valdez, who died in June 2012.
The La Rosa girls made tissue paper flowers, and brought fake fruit and empty Corona and el Jimador bottles for their altars. They also brought empanadas, which they said Hector liked.
The tradition is to leave the loved ones’ favorite foods, drinks and flowers at the altar. On the holiday, the spirits return to enjoy them.
“That’s why it’s supposed to be real,” 13-year-old Daisy Santiago said.
Altar makers are required to make the offerings fake at the museum because they’ll sit out for two weeks.
“We were supposed to bring pan muerto (bread of the dead, a sweet baked for the occasion), but we forgot,” 13-year-old Patricia Rios said.
She described the type of altar her family usually makes at home.
“My auntie, she liked daisies,” Patricia said. For grandpa, his favorite white roses.
Some altars had specific themes, such as social justice issues. Many were from high school Spanish classes — a Lincoln High School display in part honored 17-year-old Jalon Bea, who was fatally shot Oct. 11.
Four generations of the Mendoza family made their annual pilgrimage to the museum to build what looked like the largest altar. It started as a tradition to honor the family’s matriarch and has evolved into a tribute to all of the family’s deceased loved ones.
One display, made by the Washington High School Latino club, honored the 19 firefighters who died in an Arizona wildfire in June.
“The altar is to respect them, our loved ones who passed away,” 13-year-old Patricia said. “They’ll always be part of our life. That’s why we remember, to know that they’ll always be in our hearts.”
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268