Most of us are familiar in one way or another with the Mexican celebration for Day of the Dead. From the decorative candy skull imagery to the elegant Catrina art, the festivities have become a multicultural phenomenon worldwide. But really what the celebration is about is honoring our ancestors. So this year I decided to share that part of the holiday, my gratitude for my loved ones, who have guided me to the place I am today.
My grandmother Erma Wolff Rosenkranz played an important role in my formation as a person and an artist. When I was 20 I had a horse riding accident which required months of rest and therapy. I chose to stay in upstate New York on my grandmother’s 55 acre property to heal, and at the same time be a helpful companion to her 90 years. I had already lived in Europe for a year, and been to a year of university, and traveled across the US twice on my own by the time I found myself injured and living in her home, under her rules.
My grandmother was 70 years my senior, born in Buffalo, NY in 1905. Her father was an inventor, and she was the baby of 4 siblings. She loved to tell the story of how her family had the first car on their street, a model T Ford. Living with her in 1996 I was bound by the limitations that she had lived under during her coming of age. I was forbidden to leave the house except for walks on her land, or specific errands with her. I often spent hours alone in nature on her large property. To go anywhere else on my own was riddled with frustration, and often not worth the trouble. One place I could go was the library, and I went often.
I love my grandmother and grew up admiring her. But I was not prepared for her restrictions, and I quickly began to look for ways to find small moments of freedom. She almost always said no to any ideas I had. Therefore it was so surprising when she allowed me to take an all day wire-working class at a jewelry studio in downtown Buffalo. I came home that day with all kinds of materials to practice my new skills at her kitchen table. This was a milestone to becoming the artist and designer I am today. I have never taken another jewelry class until recently! Most people don’t know that about me, I am self taught!
This Day of the Dead I want to honor my grandmother Erma. She taught me so much; to find inspiration in nature, to sit still for hours with a design, to read voraciously, to happily cook for family and friends. I dream of her often, and I miss her everyday. Her favorite bird was the red cardinal, she loved coffee cake, she was an incredible seamstress, she knew all the original, natural tricks to keep her home spotless. I always carry her in my heart, and celebrate her this Day of the Dead and every year.
Joy mixed with tears.