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Dia De Los Muertos - A symbol of Mexican heritage at Brookfield Zoo

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

In recent years, Brookfield Zoo has become home to a heartwarming and culturally rich event that brings a slice of Mexico's Dia de Los Muertos to Chicago. This event offers an opportunity for families and visitors of all backgrounds to immerse themselves in the beauty and traditions of this Mexican holiday. This year Pulse Studio had the honor to work with the Jack Morton Worldwide team and be a part of this event!


Our completed Dia de los Muertos design on display October 28th and 29th, 2023

Dia de los Muertos ofrenda at Brookfield Zoo 2023
Dia de los Muertos ofrenda/altar at Brookfield Zoo 2023

Professional photography by David Scholes

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de Los Muertos has been celebrated for hundreds of years. The arrival of the Catholic Spanish into Mexico has transformed it into what we know it as today. It is a celebration of remembering our loved ones that have passed to the spirit life. It is believed that on these special days it’s temporary return of the souls of the deceased, who return home to the world of the living, to live with family members and to nourish themselves with the essence of the food offered to them on the altars. Many argue that if you remember your loved ones, they never cease to exist.

Professional leftmost photo by David Scholes

When is Dia de los Muertos?

The celebration of the Day of the Dead takes place on November 1st and 2nd as it is divided into categories: According to the Catholic calendar, November 1 corresponds to All Saints Day, a day dedicated to the “little dead” or children, and on November 2 to the Faithful Departed, that is, to adults.


What are the traditions observed these days?

One of the most distinctive aspects of Dia de Los Muertos is the creation of altars, known as ofrendas, to honor the deceased. These ofrendas are often placed in homes, cemeteries, and public spaces and are elaborately decorated with a variety of symbolic items. These altars are adorned with a variety of symbolic items, including marigolds, candles, calaveras, pan de muerto, favorite foods of the deceased, and photographs; all with the intention of welcoming back the spirits of the departed.


Commitment to Authenticity

Pulse Studio's decision to import decor directly from Mexico was driven by their desire to create an ofrenda that paid the utmost respect to this cherished tradition. Instead of opting for readily available decorations, they reached out to Mexican artisans and shops from Mexico City and the surrounding small towns, ensuring that every piece they used had an authentic touch.


The Journey to Mexico

To find the perfect pieces for their ofrenda, the Pulse Studio team embarked on a journey to Mexico. They explored local markets and artisan workshops, engaging with the culture and the people who create these beautiful and meaningful items. From vibrant papel picado (paper decorations) to intricately painted ceramic sugar skulls, every piece was thoughtfully chosen to honor the rich traditions of Dia de Los Muertos.


Design and Construction

Every great artistic endeavor begins with inspiration. In the case of our Dia de Los Muertos altar, the idea of a towering 8' high wooden skull and crown was inspired by the desire to create a visually striking and authentic representation of this Mexican tradition. The skull, with its symbolism of death and rebirth, is a key element in Dia de Los Muertos. Creating an 8' high wooden skull and crown requires careful planning and skilled craftsmanship. We started by sketching the design in 3D, ensuring that it captured the essence of Dia de Los Muertos. Custom spray-painted flowers adorned the crown. We felt the need to paint them so we could have control over the colors of the flowers that were in balance with the rest of the altar. The crown was constructed from wooden dowels and ornamental spheres painted with gold to add texture and a metallic sheen. The entire structure was securely anchored to ensure stability.


Back at the studio, the team began assembling their ofrenda. Each item was carefully placed on the altar to create a harmonious and visually striking display. It was then secured in place for a fast set-up and take-down on the days of the event. The team had a limited amount of time for setup but wanted to ensure everything was in place and perfect!


The Symbolism in Our Ofrenda

Pulse Studio's Dia de Los Muertos ofrenda is a heartfelt tribute to their own loved ones who have passed away. It's a way of keeping their memory alive and acknowledging the lasting impact they've had on their lives. We personalized it by including a picture of Tom Munz, a founding partner, who recently passed away, as well as some of our team’s family members who had also passed away.

The opportunity to create the ofrenda at Brookfield Zoo was a moving and powerful experience. It served as a testament to the importance of celebrating traditions that honor the memory of our loved ones and strengthen our bonds as a team. The ofrenda serves as a reminder that the spirits of our departed loved ones continue to be a part of our journey. We invite others to explore this beautiful tradition of remembrance and embrace the essence of Dia de Los Muertos in their own lives. In the end, it's a celebration of life, love, and the enduring connections we share with those who have touched our hearts.

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