Hippie haunting


The Duchess Committee, Altar in Memory of Maude Irvine Kerns

What would you do if an astrology book randomly fell on your head? Susan Dearborn Jackson devoted 30 years of her life to the art, as evidenced by the mysterious objects and astrological charts that inhabit and surround her altar. Stories like this make the Day of the Dead Exhibit at the Maude Kerns Art Center quite a tasty multicultural smoothie.

The holiday itself is its own palimpsest after all, with roots in indigenous Mexican rituals that were re-routed to correspond with the Roman Catholic All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1). So why not take the whole thing- complete with its vibrant colors and kitschy Christmas lights- and transplant it to vibrant, kitschy hippie-topia?

Of course, there are still tributes to the Mexican people and traditions. A charming portrait of Frida Kahlo by Marilyn Kent is a standout, and colorfully decorated skulls abound.

But the truly interesting moments explore the chemistry of cultural mishmashery, perhaps best exemplified by an altar to avante-garde artist and museum namesake Maude Kerns herself. Based on the altar-building guide near the door, shouldn’t the candles be on the second level of the construction to help guide Kerns’ soul? Where’s all the food to nourish her on the journey? Last I checked, paint palettes aren’t very tasty.


Maude Irvine Kerns

My analysis is a little silly considering the fact that Day of the Dead altars can look like anything you please. Perhaps Kerns’ dearth of munchies signifies that creativity was her fuel. Plus, you tend to find candles perched on everything (from altars to gravestones to sleeping cats) at a real Día De Los Muertos fiesta.

Kerns’ altar certainly seems to fit her radical aesthetics, which aligned her with the “Non-Objective Art Movement” from the 1930’s to 50’s. The dazzling abstract piece that accompanies her altar is like a little blue soul watching over the festivities. I love that it’s as mesmerizing as it is understated. It strikes an interesting balance between simplicity and complexity, playing with stark geometric shapes and pulsating, blurry forms.

If you haven’t been to Maude Kerns, it’s probably worth a look. It’s in a beautiful old house with mysterious staircases and creaky floors. Oh, and if you go before November 2nd, there will definitely be ghosts.

BONUS!: Check out out the Talkback page for an analysis from one of the Kerns altar builders. Click here!


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