Local artists team up to bring Day of the Dead, Mexican culture to State College

“¡Viva México!,” an exhibit featuring the Mexico-inspired works of three local artists, is on display at the State College Framing Co. and Gallery through Nov. 17.
“¡Viva México!,” an exhibit featuring the Mexico-inspired works of three local artists, is on display at the State College Framing Co. and Gallery through Nov. 17. Photo provided

In Mexico, celebration of Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, begins on Oct. 31 and ends on Nov. 2.

Those in State College are also able to celebrate the holiday with “¡Viva México!,” an exhibit at the State College Framing Company and Gallery. A reception for the exhibit will be held on Friday to show aspects of the holiday and the vibrant culture of Mexico.

The event came to fruition when Stacie Bird, a local artist, approached John McQueary II, the owner of the State College Framing Co. and Gallery, about doing a show that highlighted the vibrancy of the Mexican culture. Bird has gone to Mexico many times, “at least once a year,” and has been inspired by the art — and the Day of the Dead holiday — there. The Day of the Dead is a holiday meant to connect the living with their ancestors and honor and acknowledge them.

Bird and McQueary saw that an October/November event would fit — and that the first Friday in November also happened to be the official Day of the Dead.

The show, featuring the work of Bird, and her two “really good friends” Elli Groninger and Harriet M. Rosenberg, was also an opportunity for the three to join their art together for the first time in an all-female show.

“We have very different mediums, but we all really love and appreciate Mexico,” Bird said, “so I’m really looking forward to the three of us sharing our various viewpoints on Mexico.”

The art at the exhibit will feature art like Bird’s photographs, Groninger’s recycled metal origami, and Rosenberg’s papercut artwork and photographs. It features photographs explaining the holiday’s rituals, photos celebrating the Mexican culture, metal origami sculptures of skeletons and spirit animals, according to Groninger and Bird.

Bird, who has found personal significance in the altar that’s a common part of the holiday, said there will also be an altar at the event which shows “what kinds of things people put on their altars when they do them in Mexico.”

From photos of banners, Frida Kahlo altars and catrinas — skeletons or skeleton-inspired dress, which is a large aesthetic part of the holiday — Bird said the exhibit features “a lot of photographs related to the actual stuff that they do for the holiday.”

“It’s just to show my appreciation for the holiday — for the whole Mexican culture,” Bird said. She hopes that the exhibit can give people a “new appreciation” for the culture and the people who celebrate the holiday.

“I think the more time you spend with people, the easier it is to put yourself in their shoes,” Bird said.

When Bird asked her to be a part of the exhibit, Rosenberg was excited.

“I was really happy. Stacie and I have known each other for a while now and have both spent time in Mexico as often as we are able, so I was really happy to be able to participate in this particular group,” she said.

Rosenberg, who has also visited Mexico many times, became inspired by the Mexican wrestlers, and counts a photograph of Diamante Azul, a Mexican wrestler, as one of her favorite pieces.

Bright colors and vibrancy are a large aesthetic part of the holiday.

The show, like the Mexican culture, is a “celebration of life,” Groninger said.

Though the show features skeletons and other aspects, Groninger stressed that the show, and the holiday, are really more about “celebrating life, celebrating friendship and remembering.”

Groninger is excited that the show will allow the three friends to come together and use their different mediums to highlight a culture and a people which people may not know about as fully.

While Rosenberg and Bird’s parts of the exhibit are “quite architectural in nature,” when they were hanging everything — “hanging” is a term for fully setting up an exhibit before it opens in order to make sure everything works — Groninger found herself watching Bird arrange everything and easily find fitting places for her metal sculptures.

“She just had it together beautifully,” Groninger said. “She’s got an eye, and a vision.”

When working with Bird during the hanging process in the gallery, McQueary said he learned much more about the holiday — and the Mexican culture — than he’d known before, and noticed Bird’s knack for organization.

When it came to setting up the event, McQueary said Bird “made that aspect of this show extremely easy, because she did have a vision, and it’s a very colorful and pleasing image when you walk into the gallery.”

McQueary said that, in addition to custom framing, the framing company and gallery aims to support local artists and the artist community, as well as show people what they do with the space.

Friday’s reception will also highlight other local businesses: beverages will be provided by the Mount Nittany Vineyard and Winery, and refreshments through a local caterer.

The event will also give back to the community. Part of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Bellefonte Art Museum, a nonprofit of which McQueary is a heritage member and Bird and Rosenberg are members.

With the show and similar exhibits, McQueary hopes to highlight artists and the positive impact of small business and the local community.

“Those are our communities, our family, and that’s how we can support one another by doing an event like this and working together,” McQueary said.

If you go

What: “¡Viva México!”

When: Reception 5-8 p.m. Friday; exhibit runs through Nov. 17

Where: State College Framing Co. and Gallery, 160 Rolling Ridge Drive, State College

Info: framingstatecollege.com