SCHENECTADY – New York Folklore is celebrating the lives of lost community members and loved ones with a Day of the Dead ofrenda, or altar.
Featuring food, flowers and photos, the altar was recently erected in honor of Día de los Muertos. The holiday, which took place Sunday-Monday, is rooted in Mexican culture and traditionally people gather to pray for friends and family members who have died, helping them along their spiritual journeys.
It’s the first time that Jay Street’s New York Folklore has hosted a Day of the Dead ofrenda in its exhibition space and the installation was partly inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think there’s a lot of interest, in general, this year in thinking about those we’ve lost,” said Ellen McHale, the executive director of the organization.
Community members were invited to place photos of loved ones who have died and share messages on the altar.
“We haven’t had a lot but we’ve had a few, which has been gratifying. People that saw on Facebook who are not part of our membership have come in and put some photos,” McHale said.
Some have also shared photos of people who were victims of the coronavirus.
“I put a couple on there myself that I knew. One is Calvin Kaintuck, [He] lived in Elmont, near the Belmont racetrack,” McHale said. “[Kaintuck] was an incredible exercise rider.”
She also placed a photograph of Walter Robb, Schenectady community member and pioneering researcher at General Electric.
The altar also features a host of symbols, from candles to calavera, or skulls. Amsterdam resident Lorena Diana helped to guide New York Folklore through the process and helped to translate some of the written materials that go along with the exhibit.
“There are specific things that have symbolic meaning on the altar and they have specific places where they’re supposed to go. So the saints’ pictures are at the top. We have a cross of seeds and nuts at the bottom that are supposed to help direct people to the altar. There’s a lot of symbolism,” McHale said.
While McHale hoped to feature public programs in conjunction with the ofrenda, that wasn’t possible with the pandemic. Instead, NYF has packets filled with masks and markers for kids to take and create their own calavera.
The altar will be up through Saturday, though the organization plans to recreate it for the following year’s Día de los Muertos.
“We’re hoping to do this again next year. It takes time to build an audience,” McHale said. “I expect that this will grow.”
New York Folklore is located at 129 Jay Street, Schenectady and is open from 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday and 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information visit nyfolklore.org or call 518-346-7008.