Dia de los Muertos
“Dia de los Muertos” often requires an explanation to most of us who were raised here in the USA and are only used to Halloween. Without knowledge or reference to the old European tradition of All Saints’ Day, the Mexican “Day of the Dead” may seem a little macabre, however, in reality it is a festive celebration in remembrance of lost loved ones. A combination of Aztec beliefs and modern Catholicism, it is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. It is a colorful celebration with graveside decorations and feasts. The art that revolves around this day is always inclusive of skeletons, many times brightly painted and depicted in everyday situations. Popularity of these images has grown from collectors to decorators, finding its way into households and Mexican restaurant decor.
Hand Painted Skulls in the Tianguis
Recently, while exploring the local “Tianguis” (street market) in the center of Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico, we encountered some very cool pottery skulls. From the moment Steve saw the painting style of the artists, Jesus and Sofia, on the clay skull forms, bringing them to life with color, he knew he could make a unique chandelier for our current Mexican restaurant redecorating client. Custom lighting has always been one of the No Mas! specialties, with original hand blown glass pendants & chandeliers incorporated with wrought iron throughout our showroom.
The artist was hand painting the skulls and talking to us about the different options he has employed with various skull molds, sizes, colors – even the black and white ones were intricate and beautiful; any assortment would be impressive as part of a custom lighting project. And for added interest, we soon realized that we had worked with Jesus in years past, when he had been using his artistic talents to create necklaces from dried seeds and citrus peels …talent runs deep 😉
Designing the Custom Lighting
For the rest of the afternoon, Steve’s gears were in motion designing ideas for the skulls. During our Sunday walk through Taxco, we talked about how to illuminate the skulls using LED lighting and have them lit from both the top and bottom, to make this custom lighting project truly unique. We toyed with many ideas of how to design an interesting chandelier from iron or wood, how to position the skulls on the framework so they would hang properly, and how to get more skulls from the artist once we sell the custom chandeliers successfully.
Mexican Restaurant Interior Design
The space that the new Mexican restaurant will occupy is a very traditionally decorated, “upscale”, crystal chandelier, leather booth, white table cloth, mahogany bar, floor to ceiling curtained, plain box. The challenge is to bring the restaurant to life ….and profits! We plan to make a huge focus of the colorful skull chandelier. It will be the center of the main dining room, once combined with the large wrought iron base structure.
Lighting, although often left as secondary to architecture and seating plan, can actually make or break the perception of a space. Our focus is always on the ambient glow that properly placed points of light can create. Next time you wander into a drop ceiling, fluorescent lit restaurant, squint your eyes for a minute and imagine the space up-lit, accented with beautiful hand blown glass pendants, groups of basket lights to illuminate the dark corners, tin stars glowing with colorful gems, magical onyx cylinders emitting a warmth, wrought iron sconces, and chandeliers filling the space with magic. Custom lighting can be designed as an individual fixture or a selection of lighting elements, creatively assembled.
Creating the unity and theme for this client’s space is also very important. Other accents will be Day of the Dead subject paintings, as well as other colorful art from Mexico. A well rounded selection of artisan crafted furnishings will make some of the more utilitarian items such as the host stand, waiter stations, menu stand, signage, and bar more integral to the overall design. We will include some traditional Mexican restaurant chairs painted in bright colors to accent the brightly colored Talavera tile table tops that the chef has requested.
Dia de los Muertos Celebration at No Mas! Cantina
At our own restaurant, we celebrate Dia de los Muertos with an altar to commemorate loved ones who have gone on before us. We also post pictures of inspirational celebrities to honor their memory. We decorate with all of the traditional elements found on altars in Mexico, including sugar skulls, Tequila, baked goods, and fruit to nourish the spirits. Of course, the altar is not complete without the colorful inclusion of cempasúchitl flowers (marigolds). We plant them early in order to have our own harvest in the fall.
The Dia de los Muertos celebration at No Mas! Cantina has become an Atlanta tradition. Many of the revelers come in elaborate costumes and beautiful renditions of ‘muertos’ face paintings. We have traditional food prepared and offer our own “Beso de Muerto” margarita …flamingly delicious!
See AJC article “Day of the Dead a ritual for the living”