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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: October 24, 2017

In Lewiston, students honor loved ones with Day of the Dead shrines

Written by: Bob Keyes
Completed shrines sit on a table in the hall outside Jennifer Goodine's class at LMS.  L/A Arts and the Lewiston Middle School are supporting The Dia de los Muertos Project (The Day of the Dead project), a unique arts program being undertaken in the Lewiston Middle School Spanish language classes of LMS teacher Jennifer Goodine. Joined by teaching artist Natasha Mayers, the students create "shrines" to their personal experiences of loss. Staff photos by Russ Dillingham

Completed shrines sit on a table in the hall outside Jennifer Goodine’s class at LMS. L/A Arts and the Lewiston Middle School are supporting The Dia de los Muertos Project (The Day of the Dead project), a unique arts program being undertaken in the Lewiston Middle School Spanish language classes of LMS teacher Jennifer Goodine. Joined by teaching artist Natasha Mayers, the students create “shrines” to their personal experiences of loss.
Staff photos by Russ Dillingham

They’re just the size of a shoe box, but they pack a lot of emotion and information.

As part of a school project designed to raise cultural awareness, Lewiston Middle School Spanish teacher Jennifer Goodine is working with Spanish-language students to create shrines that honor loved ones. The shrines are on display at the L/A Arts gallery on Lisbon Street through November.

The shrines are tied to the Mexican holiday known as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of Dead, when families and friends pray for those who have died and in support of their spiritual journey. This year’s celebration is Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, though the exhibit in Lewiston, called “The Dia Project,” will be up throughout November. This year, nearly 160 shrines will be on view.

The students worked with Goodine and visiting artist Natasha Mayers, who helped them think about their emotions and what they would like to express. The students create small memorials filled with color and love, along with mementos of lives lived, lost and remembered.

“I love seeing how students choose to express themselves,” Goodine said. “I laughed and cried while learning their stories, and how they represent them. It’s really interesting to see what they can do, how deep they can go.”

Natasha Mayers works with a LMS 8th grader as she works on her shrine at the Lewiston school recently.

Natasha Mayers works with a LMS 8th grader as she works on her shrine at the Lewiston school recently.

While the students do most of their own work on their shrines, the project is highly collaborative. Goodine, Mayers and others provide the materials the students need to create their artwork, and those materials are fairly random — chess pieces, beads, playing cards and other similar things. There are tubs of materials, bags of books and magazines and pots of shells. Goodine, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, stocks up throughout the year during her frequent trips to the swap shot at the transfer station.

The shrines are meant to be expressions of loss. Goodine and Mayers encourage the students to honor a specific person, usually a family member who has died. Some students honor a family member who is missing from their lives, or perhaps a beloved pet. Others honor a country they have left behind in their journey to America.

“The project is so individualized and so meaningful for each student,” said Mayers. “These kids are very vulnerable and very open emotionally. They connect with loss and family, and with finding out more about their roots and getting to know their family history a little better.”

The Day of the Dead project began in Portland when Odelle Bowman introduced it as part of the programing associated with A Company of Girls, where Bowman worked as director before moving to L/A Arts. She brought the project with her to Lewiston, and began working with Spanish-language teachers soon after she arrived.

Bowman is no longer at L/A Arts, but the project has continued. L/A Arts’ current director, Louise Rosen, likes it because it gives students who may not be artistically inclined the chance to express themselves. “These are Spanish-language classes, not art classes,” she said. “Kids have an association with art that you have to be good at drawing or good at painting to do well. There is pressure to create figurative, representational work that people can identify. That makes you self-conscious. But when you make things out of found objects and the freedom that gives these students, it’s pretty amazing what they come up with.”

The Dia Project

WHERE: L/A Arts, 221 Lisbon St., Lewiston
WHEN: On view through November
INFO: laarts.org

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