Memorial notes hinted at the sorrow and tears once shed for the dead.
But inside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Sunday the tone was overwhelmingly joyful as museum goers paid tribute to the deceased at the Day of the Dead celebration, or Día de los Muertos, which is a holiday in Mexico to remember and pray for deceased loved ones.
The celebration stretched throughout the museum during a family festival Sunday. A mariachi band played in the Bloch Library, and children created artwork in nearby museum classrooms. But the real show was inside the cavernous Kirkwood Hall, where tissue-like balloons filled with light dangled from the ceiling. Translucent ribbons stretched down from the balloons providing a place for museum goers to pen a note to loved ones.
Thousands of notes were scribbled with crayons on cut-out skeletons and childlike flowers. They wrote in memory of grandparents, parents, brothers, mothers, pets and more.
“Dave, sending you love on your celestial journey,” read one.
“Worlds best gram,” read another.
Some paid tribute to family members gone for years. The pain was more fresh for others.
Jennifer Brown of Kansas City penned “no more pain” to a friend who died this year.
Brown attended the exhibit with Jessica Donahoe, who honored a former colleague who also died recently.
“I think it’s nice to be able to say goodbye on some level,” said Donahoe, who was attending for the second time with her children, Ocean Attebery, 15, and Max Donahoe, 10.
The holiday also calls for family and friends to create personal altars with sugar skulls, paper flowers, gifts, mementos and favorite foods that honor the dead. At the Nelson, altars paid tribute to two Mexican artists — singer Chavela Vargas and novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes Macias.
The entire exhibit design and construction was overseen by Mexican artistBetsabeé Romero, who collaborated with officials from the Mattie Rhodes Center
to lead a team of local artists in building the altar.
The exhibit, which ended Sunday, proved popular. Attendance on Sunday alone increased by more than 1,000 people.
The work provided comfort to many, including Alicia G. Kerber, head consul at the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City. She spoke at a ceremony to explain the tradition to Americans.
“We celebrate it with joy,” she said. “It’s the day that the souls of our dead people come down and are with us.”
Many like Brown were still learning about the tradition.
Others like the Trujillo family were passing it on to the next generation.
Jorge and Lizeth Trujillo attended with their three boys to teach them about the holiday. Jorge Trujillo, who grew up in Mexico, was transferred to Kansas City for work several years ago, but he and his wife have worked to preserve their heritage,. The family festival provided an ideal way to pass on the tradition.
“When we were driving here we talked about how it’s good to learn different cultures, Mexican culture, American culture and others,” he said.
The celebratory day isn’t part of Donahoe’s culture, but the museum’s exhibit and family festival is quickly becoming a family tradition.
“Our Memorial Day isn’t quite the same,” said Donahoe, of Kansas City. “It’s not comparable.”