Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Inside the collection: Day of the Dead, A Pictorial Archive of Dia de Los Meurtos

In early 2010 I had the pleasure of being introduced to Jean Moss, the creator and editor of Day of the Dead, A Pictorial Archive of Dia de Los Muertos. Jean and her husband David Margolis are friends and professional acquaintances of Dover senior editor, John Grafton, who made the introduction. They are antiquarian booksellers, and their business, Margolis & Moss is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico; I too, live in Santa Fe, so the idea of pairing us up on this title was a good fit.

I was used to having full creative control in the origination of new publications and collections, but in this instance I was asked to simply design the publication, at the service of Jean's editorial direction. It was a great experience; there's nothing like working with an expert.

Over many years Jean had been acquiring images of catrinas, calaveras, sugar skulls and the like from some pretty rare and obscure sources. I remember a wave of trepidation rolling over me the first day that she brought materials to my office for scanning— everything seemed to have been printed on high-acid, pulp paper—the kind paper that gets yellowish-orange and extremely brittle with age. Needless to say, we cracked open a fresh case of kid gloves as we dove into this material.

The collection that Jean curated features a short introductory essay in which she gives a historical context to the images, which include examples by a diverse array of artists. Favorites of mine include images by the 'superstars' of this genre:

There's a strong sampling of images by José Guadalupe Posada; To my eye the best of these are the 'genre' scenes of everyday life, as experienced by the dead.

Also well-represented is the mexican artist Manuel Manilla; below is one of his signature representations of the struggle between Death and Man.

Jean was able to bring the art of Day of the Dead forward into the 21st century by her inclusion of images by the contemporary Santa Fean artist Alvin Gill-Tapia. His images are refreshing in that they bring a wholly different quality of line and visual phrasing to this traditional style of graphic art. 

Now, all of the above images are 'graphically' useful in that the individual motifs are downloadable as simple vignettes, but for me this art really gets exciting in the broad tableaux, of which there are many superb examples in this collection, such as Posada's Calavera of Don Quixote:

Check out this collection of 188 royalty-free images at

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