October 6, 2006

Learn how to make your own Calaveras for Día de los Muertos

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Día de los Muertos is less than a month away. It is time to start thinking about setting up those altars in honor of our loved ones who have gone before us.

It is also time to buy the Calaveras, or sugar skulls, to put the names of the people we want to honor.

Calaveras are a type of traditional Mexican ornament/treat used on the Day of the Dead. They are primarily made of sugar and are shaped in the image of skulls, usually with colorful designs.


Back from Tomboctou, an independent Latino-owned art gallery in San Diego, is offering workshops where you can learn to make your own Calaveras at the same time you learn about the history and traditions of Día de los Muertos.

This year, though, instead of purchasing the Calaveras at stores or at the candy shops in Tijuana, wouldn’t it be more meaningful and fun to make your own Calacas?

Every Saturday and some Sundays until October 28, Back from Tomboctou, an independent Latino-owned art gallery in San Diego, is offering workshops where you can learn to make your own Calaveras at the same time you learn about the history and traditions of Día de los Muertos.

“There’s a lot of interest out there about making Calaveras because of what they represent during Day of the Dead,” said Maribel Saman-Delucca, owner of Back from Tomboctou and Calavera instructor.

At the workshops, which cost $15 per person, participants receive all the necessary material to create and decorate their own Calaveras. The technique used is simpler, more user-friendly than the traditional method to make Calveras in southern Mexico, Saman-Delucca said.

Instead of using the ceramic or wood mold where calavera-makers pour in the melted sugar, the workshop uses a plastic mold and the sugar, which is not hot, is mixed with merengue, she said.

“We use this technique so that anybody can make their own Calaveras,” Saman-Delucca said. “Even children older than 8 years old can learn the process on their own.”

In each workshop, which lasts an hour and a half, there are about 15 students, she said. Many of them are non-Latinos who are interested in Mexican and Latin American culture, but most them are Chicanos who want their children to learn about their own traditions, she said.

“It’s a good opportunity to teach our children about our culture,” Saman-Delucca said.

Although she pointed out that it is not common for people in Mexico to make their own Calaveras at home, she added that it has more meaning for people to create them themselves.

“It adds more honor to the altar,” she said.

This is the sixth year since Back from Tomboctou began its Calavera workshops. Each year, the class is popular among teachers, who use the techniques they learned to teach their students how to make Calaveras in the classroom, Saman-Delucca said.

The gallery has the molds for sale so that participants can teach families and friends the process at home.

“A lot of people come back each year because they like the family fiesta atmosphere that’s created during the workshop,” Saman-Delucca said.

In addition to the Calaveras workshop, the gallery also offers papel picado workshops where you can learn to make colorful designs on paper. Usually, during Día de los Muertos people decorate their altares with Indigenous designs as well as calacas.

Also, if you’re interested in making your own piñatas for posadas and Christmas celebrations, Back from Tomboctou offers piñata-making workshops.

There you learn to create the classic star-shaped piñata, said Gerardo, the artist who teaches the piñata workshops.

“We create pieces of art, a piece of our culture,” he said.

All these workshops have a clear purpose, Saman-Delucca said.

“They’re about learning about our culture, about our rituals, about ourselves,” she said.

Back from Tomboctou was established in 1983 by Saman-Delucca and her husband, who had been in the business of importing folkloric art from Latin America. The gallery is located at 3564 Adams Ave. in San Diego. For more information, call (619) 282-8708 or visit www.backfromtomboctou.com.

Workshop schedule
Sat ., Oct. 7: 3 - 4:30 p .m .
Sat ., Oct. 14: 3-4:30 p.m .
Sun., Oct. 15: 10:30a - noon
Sat ., Oct. 21: 10 -11 :30 a .m .
Sat., Oct. 21: 3-4:30 p. m .
Sun., Oct. 22: 1 - 2 :30 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 28: 10:30a -12 :00 p.m.

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