Denison artists and festival-goers payed respects and honor to friends, family and loved ones Saturday during the city’s annual Día de los Muertos festival and parade. The event, now in its sixth year, brings a taste of Mexican and Latino cultures to downtown Denison each November.
The annual festival corresponds with the Mexican holiday, translated as Day of the Dead, which is held each year from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 and coincides with the three Christian Allhallowtide holidays. Traditionally, the holiday gives families and individuals the opportunity to remember friends and family members who have died.
“It is a celebration of our deceased loved ones and honoring their memories,” Denison Arts Council President Jennifer Knott said.
The event was started about six years ago as members of the Art Council were looking to fill a void in the local arts scene and events. At the time, the local arts scene was shrinking, with many of the area art galleries closing their doors.
“We needed to do something new,” gallery owner Mary Karam said. “We shrunk from about 16 galleries to only a few and needed to do something to attract the attention of more local artists.”
Grayson College Art Professor Steve Black said the initial conversations and plans for the first festival were held at his home. While the event proved successful, Black said it took some work to show people what the holiday and festival was about.
“People see the altars, bones and skulls and associated it with Halloween when it is very distinct and far from that,” he said. “Instead, I think it is an introduction to most of the Texoma region to a whole different culture and tradition.”
For this year’s festival, Black helped coordinate a parade of performers wearing giant puppets, many designed to look like skeletons, down Main Street. Black said most of the parade’s 20 or more puppets, which were eight feet tall or higher in some cases, were designed by Grayson College students or local artists.
Knott said more than 70 vendors lined the streets of Denison. Festival organizers took special care to ensure that the festival remained on theme, with the majority of art and vendor goods and services related to the holiday or Hispanic culture.
“This is an event that is specific to Mexican culture and we wanted to honor that,” she said. “They (Mexico) are our nearest neighbor with a different culture. We have absorbed a lot from them, but this is more of a purist celebration.”
Other attractions at Saturday’s festival included Aztec dancers, mariachi performers and other musicians. The festival also held the annual raku rumble, a gathering of potters who shape and fire pottery using traditional techniques.
Among the many art displays and other attractions around Heritage Park, organizers set up a public ofrenda altar where visitors could leave pictures or other mementos of friends or family members who had died.
Jenna Zapata, owner of the Zig Zag art studio, was among a small group decorating the ofrenda early Saturday morning. Among the decorations were small photos of her grandmother, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“This is celebrating their life, you know,” she said. “There is nothing negative about it, and it isn’t about being upset or hurt that they are gone now. It is about celebrating the time I had with them.”