Grayson College art professor Steve Black opened up his big, black three-ring binder. Half a dozen young artists crowded around as he thumbed through the contents: pictures of Mexican art, Aztec iconography, drawings of skulls and, most importantly, photos and diagrams of puppets. Over the next few weeks, Black and his team will turn these bits of inspiration, along with some wood, glue, and old newspaper, into giant puppets for Denison’s Day of the Dead parade.

Grayson College art professor Steve Black opened up his big, black three-ring binder. Half a dozen young artists crowded around as he thumbed through the contents: pictures of Mexican art, Aztec iconography, drawings of skulls and, most importantly, photos and diagrams of puppets. Over the next few weeks, Black and his team will turn these bits of inspiration, along with some wood, glue, and old newspaper, into giant puppets for Denison’s Day of the Dead parade.


"Very, very few areas in Texas have an event like this," Black at the workshop on Thursday. The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday in which people celebrate and remember lost loved ones. The Denison Arts Council and the City of Denison will host their third celebration of the holiday on the first weekend of November.


Black said the Arts Council was looking for a celebration in fall, and Day of the Dead seemed like a great way to honor Latino heritage in the community. "I’ve always been attracted to the art coming out of Mexico, and I just thought it would be fun to do," said Black. "Over the last couple years I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about the customs and rituals, what it’s all about."


One Day of the Dead tradition is larger-than-life puppets, often featuring skeletons, religious figures or caricatures of the dead. Black had some experience with designing giant puppets for stage productions, and he said he was happy to gain some more.


For Black’s largest works, around 10 to 12 feet tall, puppeteers wear the puppet like an enormous backpack with a pole in each hand to move the puppet’s arms. The trick is to make the puppets sturdy enough to support themselves, but also light enough to wear around for extended periods of time. "I’m now discovering how tall I can go without people getting hurt," Black said. "Some of them last year, the wind almost took them."


Chance Mobbs traveled all the way from Atoka, Okla. to be able to work on puppets at Grayson College. Mobbs studied art at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and said he hopes to purse graduate work in art next year.


"The Day of the Dead stuff is really interesting, the cultural heritage of it," Mobbs said. "It exposes people to Latino culture, which is pretty cool."


An interest in Mexican culture also drew Wesley Milner to the workshops. "I’ve been aware of the Day of the Dead, I just wasn’t educated, I guess you could say," he said.


Milner said he hoped he would learn a lot about the holiday by building puppets, and learn a lot about art along the way. "I’m just recently an art major," he said. "Now I have a reason to make stuff, beside my own viewing pleasure."


Black said he has seven big puppets scattered throughout the region, many of which have gone on to serve in other events. He said he hopes to double that number this year, and is already looking forward to his creations being featured next year in Sherman’s Mardi Gras parade.


"People are beginning to catch on that people like big puppets," Black said.


Black’s workshops will continue throughout October. Those interested in attending or helping out at the parade can email Black at blackst@grayson.edu.