Andy Harris

KENT: Tombstones, skeletons and other artifacts of a macabre nature are part of Halloween costumes and celebrations each year, but the real Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition celebrated annually on Nov. 1-2 and over the past decade by the Standing Rock Cultural Arts Center in Kent.

The gallery, in conjunction with the North Water Street Gallery, is hosting its 10th annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art exhibition using works from a collection of local artists to fill its 600 square-foot. space.

The exhibition opened on Saturday, coinciding with the annual Halloween parade in downtown Kent. Running through Nov. 24, the display ties in with Dia de los Muertos, which is celebrated in Mexico and other cultures around the world. The purpose of the holiday is to gather family members and friends together to remember and pray for those who have died. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a national holiday and banks are closed for the occasion.

In Kent, Standing Rock co-founder and executive director Jeff Ingram and his staff work with local artist Vince Packard to curate a show in the spirit of the holiday, featuring a variety of mediums shown through works of local artists.

This year's show features simultaneous exhibitions from Packard, Trey Berry, Becky Gorman, Gina M. Corron, Gretchen Rainey and others. Packard originally came up with the concept, Ingram explained, and is tasked with allotting space for the show to participating artists based on the size and number of their works.

"It started when Vince Packard got together with an artist friend of his and they decided to celebrate this holiday with a recognition of Dia de los Muertos," Ingram said. "The holiday is different than Halloween and it was new to me too. I had seen it in a movie, a celebration of the 'Day of the Dead,' but Vince brought it all together."

This year's exhibition features a wide range of altars for individuals who have passed away, along with clear references to the origins of the holiday in Mexico. Those familiar with the Northeast Ohio art scene will also recognize a tribute to local artist Bob Wood, who passed away earlier this year.

"One of more major themes of the art this year is about Bob Wood. There are a couple of pieces dedicated to him and Vince Packard's paintings are always great,' Ingram added. "Bob was a phenomenal artist who had a great philosophy about art, this sort of existential philosophy that involved the entomology of it all and of society as a sort of growth organism."

Other pieces on display include skulls made of sugar and traditional marigold flowers that have long played a part in the celebration of the holiday. In Mexico, the celebration takes place on Nov. 1, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day on Nov. 2, and the Standing Rock exhibition always includes those days.

Ingram sees many visitors come to the gallery who are not familiar with the holiday and are experiencing it for the first time through the exhibits.

"A lot of people walk in and this is the first time they have ever seen or experienced anything like this, with Dia de los Muertos," he explained.

The show is one of four annual group exhibitions the center hosts, along with a women's art movement show and auction in March, an environmental art show in April and a student art show in June. The gallery is open from 1-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment, and admission is free.