Student carves woodblock in preparation for Dio de los Muertos

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For six years Whitman College and the community of Walla Walla have come together to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. This year's festival is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Downtown Farmer's Market, 106 W. Main St.

A highlight of the annual event is a steamroller print project, in which a commercial steamroller is used to make art prints from carved wood images. Associate Professor of Art Nicole Pietrantoni is guiding the 14 students in her beginning printmaking class as they carve the woodblocks that will be printed at the festival.

"Students carve these big blocks, which are related to honoring the traditions of the day of the dead, and students approach that from whatever perspective or whatever cultural background they come from," Pietrantoni said.

The inspiration for first-year student Anna Holt's print came from her father's love of pirates, which she inherited.

"I originally grew up in Florida, in Orlando, so I'm kind of from the beach," Holt said. "For me it's about remembering people who otherwise might not be remembered. People whose names we don't know or their dates or how they died, we just know that they died and are stuck at the bottom of the ocean. For me it's about remembering those people."

Nathaly Pérez '19 carved a print that honored the Nahuatl goddess Xōchiquetzal.

"Xōchiquetzal represents beauty and female sexual power. She's a patroness of young mothers and protects children," Perez said.

On Oct 13, Pietrantoni hosted a free beginner's workshop at the Fouts Center for the Visual Arts. She and her students taught community members how to carve, print and operate a mini-press.

"Community members from inside and outside Whitman carve their own block and learn how to operate the press and learn about printmaking so they can come and help at the festival," Pietrantoni said.

Many community partners support the festival, but this year's event is being led by Lorena Ault, Celia Guardado and Kenia Pineda of the YWCA. Other partners include Art Walla, Visit Walla Walla, the Walla Walla Symphony, Carnegie Picture Lab, Walla Walla Public Schools, Walla Walla Community College, Moreno and Nelson Construction and Willow Public Schools.

"They are sort of the main ones that help, but there's also lots of artists and performers and other groups that perform and donate time," Pietrantoni said.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a sacred cultural tradition that honors the intimate relationship between life and death and honors dearly departed loved ones.

The Dia de los Muertos Community Festival began in 2012 and has continued to grow each year, bringing out more support from the community.

"I think over the years there's been an increasing amount of leadership from the Latino community in terms of shaping the festival and the vision," Pietrantoni said. "Also I think the whole community just really loves celebrating this tradition. It feels welcoming at the festival and I think the community really appreciates the art activities, whether it's watching traditional dance or participating in activities people feel welcomed and able to be a part of this tradition from whatever background they're from."

Nathaly Perez '19 carves a woodblock in preparation of Dio de los Muertos.

Anna Holt '22 carves a woodblock in preparation of Dio de los Muertos.

Students in Nicole Pietrantoni's printmaking class carve woodblocks in preparation for Dio de los Muertos.

Students in Nicole Pietrantoni's printmaking class carve woodblocks in preparation for Dio de los Muertos.

Students in Nicole Pietrantoni's printmaking class carve woodblocks in preparation for Dio de los Muertos.

Students in Nicole Pietrantoni's printmaking class carve woodblocks in preparation for Dio de los Muertos.

Students in Nicole Pietrantoni's printmaking class carve woodblocks in preparation for Dio de los Muertos.

Students in Nicole Pietrantoni's printmaking class carve woodblocks in preparation for Dio de los Muertos.