By HAILEY FREEMAN
Arizona Sonora News
Ruben Palma carries trays of still-damp papier-mâché masks across a makeshift crafts studio. Tin paint cans, hunks of cardboard and faded tangerine-colored Home Depot buckets litter the inside of Funeraria del Angel, one of the sites for the All Souls Procession workshops last month.
Palma serves as All Souls Community Craftshop administrator and co-director for Many Mouths One Stomach, the nonprofit organization that oversees and runs free workshops geared toward All Souls Procession preparation. Many Mouths enlists the help of local artists and activists who instruct Tucsonans in creating projects to honor their deceased loved ones.
“They give people the opportunity to create and have a space to do it,” Palma says. The workshops give participants the chance to honor the tradition of Dia de los Muertos, and as Palma points out, “they are all inclusive and accessible to everyone.”
One major All Souls tradition involves making and wearing masks from cardboard and reused material, particularly papier-mâché, according to Palma.
“The papier-mâché is in free form and people create and craft in different ways,” Palma says. “They pick up techniques and experiments from each other and I get to see a lot of neat stuff.”
Many Mouths co-director Brett Boyce led mask and puppet-making workshops from 2000 to 2008 and has returned to help with the 2016 festivities. The simplicity of papier-mâché allows Boyce to teach each step of the process in about ten minutes.
“Most people at some point in their lives have papier-mâchéd,” Boyce says. “People aren’t scared of it, even those who don’t consider themselves artistic.”
Boyce believes that his job as an instructor is to facilitate the craft shops in a way that helps participants’ healing processes.
“For a lot of people, the act of making the mask is as – if not more – important than the final product,” Boyce says. “Add that to the fact that a lot of people are working through grief, and this is a really fun and sort of mindless thing for them to do.”
Boyce says the workshops attract participants of all ages, races and religions.
“From the little girl who makes the most awful kitty mask you’ve ever seen, to the 80-year-old grandmother who makes the most beautiful flower crown, everyone seems delighted with the things they create,” Boyce says.
While attending a craft shop, Mary Whittenberg explained how people produce masks to commemorate not only deceased loved ones, but also pets and animals that have been unjustly slaughtered. She planned on constructing a fox mask.
“This could be a way to get hands-on, to create something for a loved one or something you feel passionate about,” Whittenberg says.
Meanwhile, Moxie Jenkins, 3, helped her mother create a wolf mask. She most looked forward to painting it after the papier-mâché dried.
A few miles south, in the Millville neighborhood near 22nd Street and Park Avenue, the Rhythm Industry Performance Factory lies nestled among small workshops and garages. It looks more like an oversized storage shed than a production and art studio.
Just after dusk, a glowing light pours out from the propped-open front door. Inside, a few children scurry about with pieces of multicolored cloth in hand. Others sprawl across the floor scribbling prototypes of costumes that will soon come to life.
“This is all homespun here,” says Jhon Sanders, workshop director for the Procession of Little Angels. “We encourage kids to dream up something they want to be, maybe not Spiderman, but something wholly from their imagination.”
Sanders’ involvement with MMOS began in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2007 that he became affiliated with the Procession of Little Angels.
“I contribute in some small way to the betterment in a young person’s life, their sense of wholeness and their empowerment as creative beings,” Sanders says about his motivation for leading the workshops. “In whatever way I’m able to further and bolster that, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
To make this happen, Sanders accepts fabric and monetary donations year-round and relies on help from volunteers who sew costumes together and cut out cardboard wings. The children then decorate the wings with paint, feathers, beads, and glitter.
“The wings are the most iconic art activity we do at the event,” Sanders says while propping up a stack of them on a fold-up table.
Children can add crowns and garlands to their costumes. The workshop also offers lanterns made from recycled materials like glow sticks.
“We encourage kids to make it their own and not pull a product off the shelf,” Sanders says.
Marshall Blanchard, who brought his two daughters Pandora and Persephone to a Little Angels workshop, appreciates the fact that participants get to create their costumes from scratch.
“It was a fun activity that let the girls unleash their creativity,” Blanchard says. “It was really cool to have it put all together and make it look fantastic.”
Six-year-old Persephone Blanchard says her favorite part of the workshop was picking out the designs for her outfit.
Laura Cluff heard about the workshops through Facebook and decided to bring her three children and nephew to participate.
“It’s great to see their imagination come to life,” Cluff says. “They have so many different materials and choices.”
Emma Jensen, 16, interns with John Sanders and has worked with Little Angels for over seven years. Her favorite part of the workshops is seeing the joy that accompanies the creation of a costume.
“There’s something about making a kid happy,” Jensen says, “with something so simple and so easy that we can do for free – that’s amazing.”