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