Scary good time in Tacoma, WA
Whilst many Seattlites would simply view Tacoma in and of itself as a scary thing, that's really just a cheap shot. Yes, it's more of a blue collar town than Seattle; yes, its UW campus is the red-headed stepchild of the system; yes, there's that horrific smell that you get driving up I-5 when the wind is blowing right (paper mill, for those of you unfamiliar with the Aroma of Tacoma). But it does have some great things going for it, and with it being less than an hour away, it's quite the easy drive when looking for something to do.
So when I happened to see in the weekend section of the paper that the Tacoma Museum of Art was wrapping up its Día de los Muertos observation on Sunday, I thought "Aha! We haven't had a Culture Day Comma Compulsory Comma One Each in a while chez protected static - this should be a good one...". And thus it was decreed: to Tacoma!
What with the Tacoma Dome being on the way to the art museum, we made a detour to take in a gem & mineral show (I gotta get the garage cleaned out... This is killing me...) where I had to talk The Boy out of a US$ 400 ammonite fossil - yes, it is cool, no, we aren't going to get it, yes, it is cool, no, that doesn't change the fact that we're not going to get it. He was mollified by the purchase of a small hunk of Hyalite opal - an otherwise nondescript chunk of rock from New Jersey that glows green under shortwave UV light. Best US$ 0.50 I've spent in a while... But onward, ever onward - our Culture Exposure awaits!
It did not get off to a great start, I must confess.
"Are we here?"
"What is this place"
"The art museum"
"Art museum? I thought you said air museum!"
Oh boy... My resolve momentarily shaken, I steeled myself and drew from the arsenal of parental weapons: We're here, you'll like it, it'll be fun, now be quiet and get out of the car.
Crossing the parking lot, we could see the ofrendas, or altars, set up on the upper floor of the museum. "That looks cool - are we going there first?"
Whew. Crisis averted...
Entering the museum, the lobby was filled with a magnificent tapeta, or sand painting, depicting a corn stalk emerging from the mouth of a skeleton; skulls took the place of the ears of corn, and the sun and moon above were composed of partial skull motifs. In and around the skeleton were orange and yellow flowers, the marigolds typical of Day of the Dead displays. Overall, the piece had a vaguely Aztec-inspired feel to it, particularly in the way the skulls were depicted - they looked like Modernist interpretations of temple glyphs.
Walking about the lobby was a couple dressed in somber neo-Victorian garb, their faces painted to resemble skeletons. The lobby was packed with people, some trying to get freebies from the Latin radio station that had a table set up, others queueing up to listen to readings by local and national Latino writers of note. Finding out that admission was free for the day, I dropped some money into the donation box. Taking a look at the crush of people in the lobby, we decided to grab a bite to eat at the Museum's cafe, and then head upstairs to the exhibit of altars.
The altars were arranged on the outer edge of the walkway surrounding the lobby atrium. They ranged from whimsical (one honoring Johnny Cash, one Edward Gorey) to historic (Benito Juarez, Freda Kahlo) to personal (parents, friends) to political (the war in Iraq, smoking and lung cancer). Across the atrium from the altars were conference and classroom spaces - and it was in one of these that I saw our true objective: Make your own sugar skull.
We spent probably half an hour or so futzing around with our skull - the museum had premade dozens of skulls in all sizes; most were plain white, but there were some magenta and purple ones being worked on (alas, none were left). Sequins, tissue paper, squeeze tubes of frosting and glitter paint, glitter gel glue, craft glue, cake decorating sprinkles and candies - half a dozen kid-sized tables held an assortment of each. We grabbed a chair, and decorated away while outside in the lobby Mexi-Caribbean musicians and dancers replaced the writers.
Leaving our skull to dry (fat chance, given the rain we were having - but still... one must hope for the best), we headed back down into the museum proper. We decided to take a break from the festivities - paper mache skeleton puppets had joined the skeletal couple in preparation for the closing ceremony - and check out one of the other current exhibits, photography by Margret Bourke-White, the iconic and pioneering photojournalist. Her vision and style helped define the look of Life and TIME magazine's covers for at least a decade, and her photos of 1920's and 1930's industrialism are, seen in today's light, a techno-romantic vision of society. Again, after an initial objection ("What's this?" "Old photos of machinery, you'll love it."), The Boy really enjoyed himself, amazed at the portraits of assembly lines turned into abstract art.
At this point, we'd both had enough: The Boy was Quite Clearly Done, and I wasn't about to force him to stay - we headed back upstairs for our skull, then out to the parking lot, stopping once to marvel at the creativity of the people who were arriving with their own puppets and floats to join in the closing ceremony.
[It promises to be a hectic week, as evidenced by the fact that I started writing this post on Sunday evening... I took some photos of the event, including our finished skull but I haven't downloaded them from the camera yet. I'll try to post a couple, along with a Flickr link, when I get a chance.]