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Dia de los Muertos: An evening for art, honoring and feasting

December 30, 2016

last-import-10-of-17On Nov 1st, OCHO Art + event Space in Questa overflowed with activity, color, music, delicious food and a diverse group of guests. We honored loved ones and ancestors with ritual and celebration by gathering the living for Questa’s second annual collaborative Dia de los Muertos celebration. This full, late afternoon and evening party included art and altars, Aztec dancers, a feast, music by Questa High School Mariachi and more!


Many thanks to those talented students and their dedicated teacher, Rachel Leon. We will long remember their performance of La Llorona in a candlelit gallery.

The main artworks in the gallery were altars created by Questa Junior and Senior High School students thanks to the guidance and support of art teacher, Jennifer Vialpando. A heartfelt thank you to our local educators, and gratitude to the hosts of the event at OCHO Art + Event Space, in the village center.


As guests arrived they were greeted by local artist Anita McKeown and her Water Altar, created to honor and celebrate the importance of water.

Anita said this of her inspiration, “Water is life for all of us, the altar allows us to make ‘offerings’ for the healthy continuance of our relationship with water and place. It gives a space to reflect and be mindful of our inter-connectedness.”


Thanks to our inspired community members who cooked and baked and served the feast! The spread included posole, vegetarian lentil stew, beans and rice, a huge prune pie, hot chocolate, apples, local cider, pan de muerto, and much more!

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The Aztec Dancers moved with such vitality and power, a deeper history of this celebration, rooted in the indigenous traditions of precolonial centuries, struck us.


Guests of the evening brought photos of loved ones and objects to adorn a community altar. And a pet altar honored animal friends. We remembered the dead with celebration, bright colors, and food with strong flavors; which may explain why this year’s Dia de los Muertos filled the house.

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Guests enjoyed decorating sugar skulls, writing calaveras or “memory poems,” making paper marigolds, calavera face painting (special thanks, Peggy Trigg), and printmaking (special thanks, Joan Long), and writing letters to the dead at “The Dead Letter Office” with author and teacher, Annie Mattingley.

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Of this particular activity Annie said: “This is a chance to write your own heart-healing letter to someone dear who died either recently or long, long ago.” Those heart-healing letters deposited in the sealed box in “The Dead Letter Office” were burned, (in their box), as promised.

Coordinated by Gaea McGahee and Claire Coté, the collaborative event was the collective effort of LEAP, OCHO, Questa Junior-Senior High School students and teachers, as well as community volunteers.


“I see Dia de los Muertos as a way to process loss with simple and meaningful actions in the presence of a community. During our celebration, we prepared food, made beautiful altars and items to place on them. We made sugar skulls; and, while adorning them, maybe we faced mortality with a bit of humor. Our ritual and celebration was a container for our feelings of sorrow at the death of our beloveds. By treating mortality with humor, we acknowledged that we are all sojourners; some simply further ahead,” says Gaea.

Thanks to Rita Daniels of KNCE 93.5 Taos True Radio for joining us at the event and reporting about about it. Listen to her radio program about our day of the dead celebration here:  “Wake Up, Taos! with Rita Daniels” Nov. 2, 2016 episode 51: “Questa Celebrates Dia de los Muertos” (click on “Questa Celebration” 18:10 minutes)


The event was made possible by funding from the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area Fund, Chevron Questa Mine Community Fund, Questa Economic Development Fund as well as individual donations and many, generous, in-kind contributions and volunteers.

We are looking forward to next year! If you’re interested in participating in the event in some way, please contact, Gaea McGahee,,  575-224-2102.


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