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Day of the Dead honors those who have died before us

By Jewelee Lukowski, Art Teacher at Bernard Campbell Middle School, Lee’s Summit R-7 School District

Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a day of remembrance and an opportunity for individuals to come together to honor, reflect and celebrate the memory of loved ones who have passed before us. I have been an Art Teacher for 28 years and after learning about the origins of the Day of the Dead and the Hispanic tradition of honoring those who have passed on, I decided to add this day of celebration to my curriculum. 

I am also a volunteer facilitator at Solace House and worked in the Sea Room for close to 15 years. At Solace House, it was often our focus to honor, remember, share grief, and celebrate traditions that keep our deceased loved ones close to our hearts. I was given the opportunity to share a similar experience with my art students, in the public school setting, when the Nelson-Atkins invited us to participate in their annual Día de los Muertos altar installation, paying homage to those who passed before us. 

After learning about this day’s importance to various cultures, my students were charged with choosing a family member, pet, famous person, etc., who they would like to create an altar for. The altars are called “mini Nicho boxes” and are filled with colorful images that are of importance to the individual as well as items, quotes, and even representations of favorite foods that may be appreciated in the afterlife. The boxes we create have been displayed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art during their yearly celebration.

Here are some things my students said about their person:

“My sister, Ally, is who my altar was made for. She was shot when she was 10 years old. We were very close and I miss her every day.” Alisha E.

 “My grandma, Angela, died in 2006 when my mom was pregnant with my brother. My dad told me about how she lived in Zimbabwe her whole life and had lots of kids so my family is huge. My middle name is Angela and I made the box for my dad for his birthday because he loved her so much and misses her.” Khanya O.

“My altar is for my sister in law, Ashley. Ashley was a very loved, and forgiving person. She always put others before herself. Everyone in the family loved her and thought of her like their closest friend. My family is still grieving her and I thought it might brighten their moods to see such a beautiful memorial for her.” Holly W.

“My nicho box is to honor my mom’s cousin, Ryan. He loved his beach house on the Gulf of Mexico and loved riding in his 1950 style corvette. He lost his battle to a brain tumor 5 years ago and will forever be missed. I resonate with his death a lot as it was a very sentimental death in our family.” Morgan H.

See pictures of student work samples below.

To learn more about the work I do with students, please visit my website, Lulu’s Art Gallery. Also, to learn more about Solace House, or to give a donation, please click here. A donation to Solace House, a program of Kansas City Hospice (KCH), helps bring comfort and support to grieving families in Kansas City. KCH is also offering a unique way of honoring and remembering loved ones this year during Día de los Muertos, with a virtual candle page where you can light a candle and create a family candle page to honor your loved ones.


2 Comments on “Day of the Dead honors those who have died before us”

  1. PITA Says:

    Jewelee, you are the most giving, caring, sincere, and loving person. You have so much love and passion in everything you do for everyone! It humbles me to read what incredible things you do for others with getting nothing in return except the fact that you know they are sharing your love! I guess that’s all we need. God bless you!

  2. Susan Fraccascia Says:

    Great way to honor those who mean so much and continue to feel a spiritual connection.

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