El Centro native Anastassia Cabanillas, 19, spent Saturday evening colorfully painting a friend’s face and having her face painted, leaving one half of her face bare while the other half was white with the colorful details of a traditional sugar skull.
The Cal Poly Pomona student admires sugar skull art and will also spend today making sugar skulls as part of a Dia de los Muertos altar.
“It’s meant to welcome spirits of our past ancestors,” she said. “Some think it’s the Mexican Halloween and that’s not what it is. It’s a day for you to reconnect with your ancestors, not something you mourn and instead, celebrate.”
Sugar skulls are created with sugar, meringue powder and water poured into a mold and hardened overnight before being decorated.
Sugar art was brought to the Western Hemisphere by Italian missionaries in the 17th century and was first used in religious themes during Easter when small sugar lambs and angels decorated side altars at Catholic churches, writes Angela Villalba on www.MexicanSugarSkull.com.
Mexico has high sugar production, and many Mexicans at the time couldn’t afford to buy expensive European church decorations so friars naturally began teaching people how to create sugar art for religious purposes.
Today, sugar skulls are a staple of Mexico’s annual Day of the Dead celebrations, but its presence has spread far beyond Mexico.
The popularity of sugar skull art has sharply increased with more and more of the often elaborately detailed images winding up as someone’s tattoo, in music album covers, in fashion and on Facebook pages.
Sugar skulls may even make an appearance on the big screen as Pixar is rumored to be producing a Day of the Dead-themed film.
As with most popular images, those sporting sugar skulls may or may not fully understand their cultural significance or history.
Sacramento artist Rob-O started Sugar Skull Art three and a half years ago, creating unique traditional sugar skulls and also winged sugar skulls as well as other art pieces.
He also travels year-round hosting classes that teach people of all ages how to create and decorate sugar skulls.
He even creates 35-pound sugar skulls that have been displayed everywhere from the state fair to a performance by the Sacramento Philharmonic Symphony.
“It’s kind of crazy how sugar skulls are being so much more accepted in society,” he said.
The celebration of Day of the Dead and the process of creating sugar skulls has also helped Rob-O process the death of his mother.
“When we lost her, we lost everything,” he said. “You’re missing that person but when you celebrate Dia de los Muertos, it’s more of a celebration of life and there’s not that negative void.”
Rob-O also is commissioned by customers to create pieces for their lost loved ones.
He enjoys dispelling myths about the holiday to those who might view it as a morbid or pagan and instead explains the history of the art.
San Sebastian Rustic owner Vanessa Vaca has also taught classes on how to create sugar skulls around the Valley over the years and sells the creations in her Brawley store.
“It’s important to know that it’s a positive holiday and not to be confused with anything other than that,” she said.
The hands-on activity of creating the sugar skulls gives many a more personal feel of their Mexican heritage, she explained. The name of the deceased is often written on the skull’s head and then placed on the person’s altar with other items.
Vaca was also enthused by the sugar skull’s rise in popularity.
“There’s a big trend across the board with Day of the Dead art which is really neat to me,” she said. “If I get a chance to explain what the real holiday is, that’s the satisfaction I get out of the classes.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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