From left, Phoebe Bonham, Sorcha Sweeney and Debra Thomas celebrate Day of the Dead on All Souls Day at the Roswell Public Library, Saturday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Roswell celebrated Day of the Dead this weekend with activities both whimsical and somber.
The Roswell Public Library hosted a Day of the Dead craft day Saturday while the Roswell Fine Arts League Gallery installed an altar to artists who passed away over the past year.
The altar was installed last week at the co-op gallery and will be taken down during the coming days.
Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday coinciding with the Catholic holidays All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. The purpose of the holiday is to remember and celebrate the lives of the deceased.
The library event included an altar with pictures of deceased authors, most of whom died in the past year. Elmore Leonard, Vince Flynn, Robert Parker and Beatrix Potter were remembered.
About 60 adults and children participated in numerous skeleton-themed crafts in keeping with the aesthetic of the festival. They checked out library books about the holiday and learned about traditions associated with it.
Deanne Dekle, librarian for the children’s section, helped organize the event. She said face painting was the most popular activity. Children and adults had their faces painted to look like skeletons.
“I think the kids just got a kick out of it. I mean, who doesn’t like face painting?” Dekle said.
The altar at the gallery had a more solemn tone, with pictures of deceased members of the Fine Arts League displayed. Painter Richard Cibak and photographers Paul Ashby and Michael van Rae were honored.
The altar contained paper marigolds, candles to warm the three men, a glass of water to refresh them, oil paints to reflect their work as artists and a wooden watermelon, according to Nancy Phillips, a potter and league member.
She said the wooden watermelon was especially for Cibak. She described Cibak as an optimist. She said he had a saying: “We can do anything. I once set fire to a watermelon.”
Phillips installed an altar for the first time three years ago in part because of her interest in Day of the Dead traditions. She and her family first installed an altar at their home five years ago, and many of Phillips’ pieces displayed at the gallery portray Day of the Dead themes.
Welder Bobby Goode, who displays metal and woodworking as well as photography at the gallery, said the altar had an emotional effect on league members.
“It’s kind of hard. All of them were well-known in the community here,” he said. He commented that some of the deaths were unexpected.
Phillips said she preferred Day of the Dead to Halloween because it has a more positive tone. She described how activities on Nov. 1 are more somber as the day is reserved for remembrance of children, while on Nov. 2, the lives of deceased adults are sometimes celebrated with parties.
“Halloween is scary. Day of the Dead is not scary,” she said.