On November 4th, the weekend of Dia de los Muertos, Arbutus Folk School and CIELO partnered to offer a special arts activity honoring the Mexican tradition by celebrating beloved family pets who have passed away.
This unique event was made possible by the generous support of Olympia Federal Savings, whose sponsorship allowed us to host guest artist Samuel Becerra of Pasco, WA.
Samuel is a sculptor and historian of pre-Columbian society in Mexico and designed a hands-on workshop that was fun and engaging for the whole family while sharing the tradition of the “Alebrije,” a colorful statuette representing the deceased loved one for each family. Samuel hand-sculpted clay cats and dogs which participants were then able to decorate according to tradition – using techniques such as contrast, symbols, and pointillism. The Arbutus studio has never seen so many colors of paint!
“Our Mexican ancient tradition is a huge celebration since the 1300’s in my country,” Samuel shared. “We make this celebration in memory of our loved ones, including our faithful pets.”
With Oly Fed’s generous support, Arbutus Folk School and CIELO were able to offer this Spanish-language cultural arts workshop to the entire CIELO community at no cost to the participants. The importance of making this opportunity available cannot be overstated, as the Spanish-speaking community in the Olympia area sees very few opportunities to make art or participate with local arts organizations.
This event represents a continued relationship between Arbutus Folk School, CIELO, and Olympia Federal Savings: last year, the two-day ceramics workshop they co-created was the first local arts experience offered for Spanish-speaking community members in several years.
With 30 participants gathering for this year’s workshop, the positive impact on participants was clear through the smiles of kindergarteners and grandparents alike as they worked on their alebrijes and connected with one another and the instructor. “Me encanto, fue relajante y se compartió un tiempo de calidad con mis hijos, muchas gracias,” one participant shared. “Fue muy fácil participar incluso con niños chiquitos. Quisiera mas talleres como este para llevar a la familia y conocer a mas familias que también hablen español,” shared another. Participants stated they were grateful, excited, happy, and looking forward to making more art in the future.
Staff at CIELO and Arbutus Folk School are strong supporters of arts & culture as an essential part of community life, as are the team at Oly Fed – “We are so honored to be able to support the rich diversity in our community in such a creative and thoughtful way,” shared Ryan Betz, VP Marketing & Public Relations. “The workshop partnership between Arbutus Folk School and CIELO is a great example of community collaboration to deliver a hands-on education experience that builds relationships, while furthering the power of the arts and cultural traditions in Thurston County.”
Led by ceramicist and musician Samuel Becerra, the classes were offered for small groups over several weekends for Covid safety. Over 50 students from age 6 to grandparents signed up to participate, often together as a family. Students sculpted small bird-shaped flutes from terra cotta clay, then painted the flutes after they were fired in the kiln. “I can’t believe I made this!” one student exclaimed as she added the finishing touches to her flute.
With the disruption of the pandemic, CIELO staff estimated that these workshops have been the first local arts experience offered for Spanish-speaking community members in several years. Even as CIELO staff have been incredibly busy with recent vaccination drives for the Latino community, they have prioritized this project as another essential service for their clients. “I support this activity 100%,” CIELO Executive Director Julio Rios shared.
Artist Samuel Becerra, born and raised in Mexico City, studied music at the G. Martell School of Music and has performed with premier regional Latin music groups such as Grupo Condor, Caliente, and Son Melao. Samuel has taught art and music in schools, libraries, and community centers across the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on flutes and the music of Central America before Columbus.
As he led students at Arbutus in crafting their flutes, he also shared with them his wide knowledge of the history, technology, music, and art of indigenous cultures of Mexico, and helped students incorporate traditional designs into their creations. “I like this ceramics class, especially when the instructor introduced the history,” one student shared. “I learned the story behind the art,” added another.
When students took their flutes home, many shared how much they enjoyed the classes and asked whether there would be more. “I love the class. Thank you so much for the opportunity to learn how to create this piece of art. I am looking forward to see more workshops like this one,” one student wrote in a note.
Arbutus Folk School Executive Director Hillary Tully is making plans for continued Spanish-language programming at Arbutus in the future. “There is a huge need for more arts and cultural experiences in our community, especially activities that are more accessible in language, cost, and location. Arbutus Folk School is working to meet these needs, so if you can help support, please reach out!” For this goal, the School’s greatest needs are Spanish-speaking volunteers, Spanish-speaking arts instructors, and donations from the community to keep classes free.
“We are so honored to be able to support the rich diversity in our community in such a creative and thoughtful way,” said Ryan Betz, VP Marketing & Public Relations with OlyFed. “The workshop partnership between Arbutus Folk School and CIELO is a great example of community collaboration to deliver a hands-on education experience that builds relationships, while furthering the power of the arts and cultural traditions in Thurston County.”
Thank you for your support of these wonderful classes!