By Tina Chadwick

It comes once a year in the fall and involves skeletons, coffin decorating and a celebration of the dead. But, it has absolutely zero to do with Halloween. It’s the annual Day of the Dead Show being held this year at the ever-cool Young Blood Gallery at 636 N. Highland Ave. in Poncey-Highland.

Local artists will show off their other-worldly talents by decorating handmade wooden coffins to display during the Oct. 30 opening party at Young Blood Gallery from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. and then through Nov. 28.

The coffins are 17’ x 7” x 4” but hold infinite possibilities as decorating artists have used every means of expression to create what are truly amazing pieces of art. There are intricately painted coffins, coffins with blinking lights, sound, video, living plants and even hand-crochet figures.

“This event brings out all types of artists in the community. It’s really interesting to see how each person interprets this holiday and how they express that interpretation,” says Kelly Teasley, Young Blood’s owner.

The celebration pays tribute to an actual Mexican holiday dating back thousands of years called Dia de los Muertos, (Day of the Dead) which occurs annually on Nov 2. The Catholic holiday is a celebration of those who have passed on as a way to honor their lives and memories. The celebrants believe that by paying homage to the dead through song, music and offerings of food and flowers, you will avoid the last stage of death, which is when no one speaks of you anymore.

“We wanted to connect artists with a unique holiday and when we read a fact card about Dia de los Muertos, we knew we found one,” says graphic designer/artist, Tracy Wagner, who co-founded the show with Shannon Mukley. This is the third year for the show and Wager is always awed by the response from the art community.

“The dark and the mysterious are interesting and unknown but with this holiday, you have the light and flowers, too,” Wager says. “People love the freedom to do whatever. Everyone starts with the same coffin and it’s amazing to see the vast differences in what comes back.”

Wagner’s husband makes the plain pressed board coffins, which are given out to the artists about 2 months before the event for $20. Availability of the unusual “canvas” is on a first come, first serve basis. The usual number of entries is around 70 to 80 pieces.

“This year we’re trying to go even more authentic with the party. We’re getting traditional decorations, a live band, lots of food and drinks and are working on a taco truck, too,” says Teasley.

The coffin art is available for purchase starting at $100. If you haven’t partied for the dead, this event is – you guessed it – to die for. For more visit http://youngbloodgallery.com.

More Day of the Dead Events

An Evening with Lila Downs at Rialto Center for the Performing Arts
Saturday, Oct. 30, 8 p.m.
Embodying the indigenous Mesoamerican roots of her mother and the influence of her American father, Mexico’s Lila Downs is truly a child of multiple worlds, and her music pays tribute to all of them.  She has dedicated herself to the performance of thoroughly contemporary music which nonetheless bears witness to the languages, melodies, and themes of her homeland and its history.  Hers is a voice that, in the words of one critic, “gives pause, makes you take notice and ask who’s singing.”  But it is a voice that, once heard, is never forgotten.  Tickets are $34, $44 and $58

Day of the Dead Celebration Downtown Arts Walk
Thursday, Nov. 4, 5 to 8 p.m.
Join the community for a free event and learn more about the traditional celebration of Dia de Muertos, decorate figures, and enjoy exhibition of folk art and tasting traditional Day of the Dead food. Free! For more information about the events at the Rialto, visit www.rialtocenter.org.

Mingei World Arts
Sunday, Oct. 17, 1 to 4 p.m.
Mingei in downtown Decatur will have sugar skull cookie decorating, skull mask decorating, information about creating a Day of the Dead altar, Day of the Dead decorations and refreshments.  427 Church Street,  (404) 371-0101.

Atlanta History Center
Sunday, Oct. 31, noon to 5 p.m.
Storytelling, decorated altars, food and music are all part of the Day of the Dead celebration at the History Center in Buckhead. www.atlantahistorycenter.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.