The Day of the Dead gallery specializes in altars built by local artists in honor of their deceased loved ones.
First Friday continued Tulsa’s Day of the Dead celebration at Living Arts. Day of the Dead tradition involves building altars for deceased family members to welcome them back to the home of the living. A single altar may be dedicated to many different family members or just one. General decorations include skulls and skeletons, flowers and religious objects. Usually, the living put out their dead’s favorite things such as toys, personal objects and food.
Generally, First Friday art is an expression of local culture, exhibited and up for criticism or praise. However, each altar is more than a piece of art. Every piece seemed to be put there with so much care.
One particular altar struck me because of a recent picture crowning the top. The altars are filled with symbolism and black and white pictures of elderly, but one had a recent-looking picture of a girl in a military uniform. The caption of the photo gave the birth and death dates. Her name was Stephanie Marie Barton, and she was an Air Force Veteran. She died at 22 years-old in a car crash.
Seeing a girl around my age memorialized on a Day of the Dead altar drew me in for a closer look. A relative of Stephanie’s, Anita Pyle, sat next to the alar to answer questions.
“She was spec-ops,” she said, “Also won the sharpshooter award.” She continued on to say her job was the grenade launcher. Pyle made certain to dry the distinction between her job and her personality. Pyle said how everyone loved her. She used to work at Elote, downtown, where “she loved the Mexican wrestling.”
I asked about a skull-shaped jar that was filled with coffee beans. “We roast Costa Rican Coffee ourselves,” Pyle explained. She handed me some chocolate covered coffee beans to munch on, leaving the home-roasted ones in the jar.
Lastly, I asked about a real quesadilla with salsa sitting on the small table. She explained they have a family member that “makes the best salsa” and she put out a quesadilla to go with one of Stephanie’s favorite foods. It felt so melancholy to see the food put out for her to come home to her family, knowing it will never be eaten.
The Day of the Dead is a cultural tradition of uncommon depth. Honoring the dead is a task people rarely make time for. With Tulsa’s annual participation in the event, I strongly urge any Tulsan to go next year.