In Eugene, one of my favorite markers of the season is the Día de los Muertos opening reception at that old dame on 15th Avenue — the Maude Kerns Art Center. By opening night (Oct. 16 this year), the sun sets early, hastily swapping out for a harvest moon. In the moonlight, the campus neighborhood buzzes with families, students and other show-goers crunching through the leaves and up the steps into the cozy, glowing art center.
“The gallery comes alive during the Day of the Dead show,” Maude Kerns curator Michael Fisher tells me while standing in the thick of the crowd in the main gallery. “We’ve been doing it for 22 years. It’s great when we have new artists inspired by the art [of the holiday].”
Calacas, or skeletons, dance behind him in a series of black-and-white linoleum-cut prints by California artist Jesus Cruz, Jr. Fisher explains how lucky Maude Kerns is to have work by the printmaker as he only shows in a handful of Día de los Muertos shows nationally each year.
Cruz’s prints — razzing mortality with a masterful artist’s touch — are subdued in palette compared to the rest of the work, which vibrates with magentas and reds, turquoises and marigolds. Cruz, Jr. is one of 24 artists whose work was accepted to the juried show running through Nov. 6.
Fisher says Maude Kerns puts out a nationwide call for artists and chooses work that demonstrates artistic excellence, good technique and an understanding of the holiday — “You can’t just draw a skeleton,” he says. The artists are following in a long tradition of poking fun at death with their imagery, Fisher explains.
In addition to the linocuts, don’t miss the tiny ofrendras (similar to a shrine, but with “offerings”) that Eugene artist Thalia Lerin constructed inside Altoids tins, like mini dioramas with polymer clay skeletons and taped-up fortunes.
“They are all inspired by fortune cookies that she finds,” Fisher says.
There are also large-scale altars in memory of loved ones lost, including one for immigrants who died crossing the Mexican border and another for the center’s namesake, artist Maude Kerns, who passed away 50 years ago this year.
For art straight out of the heart of Día de los Muertos, visit the pop-up shop in the back, which Eugenean Suzanne Algara — who was born and raised in Mexico — stocks with work by Mexican artists.
Later in the evening, the young dancers of Ballet Folklórico Alma de México took to the wood floor, the boys’ faces painted like smiling skulls and the girls’ long traditional skirts swirling in a colorful flurry. The panoply of color that night is like a jolt of vitamin D.
Now I can face the winter, I tell myself as I button up my coat for the first time this season and head back into the moonlight.
A special thank you goes out to artist Joey Edwards, whose “Zonald Trumpkin” creation (a zombie Donald Trump) won our first pumpkin-carving cover contest. Edwards is currently showing a slew of jack-o-lanterns (or foam pumpkins) with pop-culture mugs from The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and more until November at Ninkasi’s tasting room, 272 Van Buren St. Edwards is also available for pumpkin commissions before Halloween. Meet the artist at Ninkasi’s “Spooky Reception” during Last Friday Art Walk 6 to 9 pm Friday, Oct. 30. For more info, visit joeyedwards.daportfolio.com.