This year, for the first time, I created collages for Dia de los muertos, the exuberant Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebration of loved ones who have departed. The collages are collectively titled "La magia y la pérdida" or "magic and loss," and are being shown in "Momento Mori," a group exhibition curated by Cincinnati multi-media artist Ursula Roma. It opened on Halloween rather than today to take advantage of Cincinnati's Final Friday art walk in Over-the-Rhine.
Ursula hatched the plan soon after her 50th birthday, when she began thinking about what was ahead, and, yes, mortality. It also happened that her brother had recently lost all his belongings in a fire, so she is donating the 50% commission on sales to him.
When asked to participate, I was unsure. I'd been steering clear of holiday-themed pieces. Then, an idea came to me: I'd use original engravings of skulls from my antique medical books to create a different take on the traditional Dia de los muertos skull motif. The skulls would be surrounded by a magical garden of beautiful, delicate flowers (a bit more subtle than the holiday's usual super-bright flowers) that would weave from one collage to another.
As work began, I found my real inspiration in my late brother David, who died many years ago at a young age; my late sister Cindy, who died last year; and my mother, who died almost two decades ago at age 69.
I started thinking about the Halloween celebrations of our childhood, which were nothing short of magical, and that magic was largely of my mother's making.
She directed every holiday with zeal, and this was no exception, from baking special treats to taping up the ubiquitous Beisle cut-outs of skeletons, witches and pumpkins, to making truly over-the-top costumes. Sometimes, we received costume help from our talented neighbor George Yokum, an artist who worked at the "Mike Douglas Show" back then.
One year, Cindy and I were magnificent angels with fantastically large, feathered wings. Another, we were playing cards. Nicely done, except that the boxes used were a bit too long, and we had trouble negotiating steps.
David was two years younger than me, and Cindy less than one. My older brother, Rick, was just a year older than me. So, we were a close-knit band of trick-or-treaters. It was a neighborhood populated with kids our age, yes, Baby Boomers. Halloween was terrific, and exhausting, fun.
Afterward, we tried to see who could make their candy last the longest. 'Til Thanksgiving? No problem. Christmas? Maybe. New Year's? Don't count on it.
So, I've dedicated the pieces - which like families are interconnected, yet separate - to my siblings, and mom, and to magical moments.