A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

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Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Sacred Time

Although recent years have seen a commercialism of Halloween that almost rivals the Christmas season, to me it is important to remember that this is a sacred time for many cultures. Samhain is one of the cross-quarter days in the nature-based cultures that have evolved into modern paganism, while many agricultural cultures have traditionally celebrated the harvest at this time of year. Having grown up in a Catholic family in a smaller-scale version of California, this time of year evokes strong memories of feast days that borrowed from both the Celtic and Druidic traditions ("All Hallow's Eve" transmogrified into All Saints Day) and the Spanish/Aztec blending that led to "El Dia de Los Muertos", All Souls Day. For several years, my daughter and I have made a point to visit The Altar Show, the local version of "Altares del Mundo", a tradition rooted in the Hispanic culture that rose from the earliest colonization of California.

Altaristas, the artists who construct the altars, employ a wide array of methods, with some sticking to the older, hispanic style, including votives, skeletons and paper flowers, while others employ a starker, more Zen-like arrangement. Many of the altars we viewed honored a particular person who had died recently, while some addressed whole groups, such as the Sierra Nevada Deep Ecology Institute's altar to endangered species, and Theresa Juarez Lyon's altar "War is Murder" honoring those thousands who have died as a result of the war in Iraq. Theresa employed glass vases filled with grains of rice to represent these lost lives, in a very minimal but powerful exhibit.

This altar is an example of a more traditional gathering of everyday objects, although the altarista, Chad Wood, modeled it after the Dutch still life paintings of the Baroque period. Photos of loved ones, remembrances of favorite objects or collections, books that speak to personal beliefs, are all common themes in the altars. Posted by Picasa

This altar is a tribute to the Chinese Joss houses, or temples that used to dot the landscape in the Mother Lode of the Sierras. Constructed by Terry Jean Meekins, in honor of her grandmother and mother, who took them traipsing through the woods, deepening her appreciation of California's earlier history. Posted by Picasa

Visiting an altares exhibit is also participatory, with many installations including journals, slips of paper to leave your contribution, such as in the form of answering a question posed by the altarista, and even a large community altar installed in the middle of one of the gallery rooms, with news clippings and photos as well as votives and rememberance objects.

This large design, made entirely from stones of various types and colors, included a "pick a rock" section for visitors. Posted by Picasa

I particularly had to share this "altar to unfinished projects" with my fellow knitters and quilters... you can surely relate. The altarista, Kat Barrie, titled her creation "Finish THem or Let Them Go". I know that there are a few virtuous amonst us who completely finish one project before going on to another, but most of my friends have rooms that look a lot like this altar. Posted by Picasa

Is this strictly a California phenomenon? I know that there were two similar shows in Sacramento this month.... what about in your area?


Blogger Marguerite said...

You have such interesting posts.

I've never heard of such a show in this region (SW Michigan), but then I've never know enough to try and seek one out.

Love the alter to unfinished projects. I have a few I'd like to donate to the project.

7:16 AM  
Blogger FaeryCrafty said...

Wow what a great post! Thanks for all of the wonderful information :)

3:13 PM  
Blogger margene said...

I have thought of making an altar in my home. This just might be what I need to make it happen.

8:55 AM  

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