I have just spent some time in Tucson, Arizona, which was gearing up for huge Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. Even more than usual, skeleton art was on display in the city’s varied shops. I’ve always had a soft spot for these strange, captivating figurines: tiny skeletons encased in brightly painted wood boxes celebrating a wedding (and dressed for it) or emerging from a few-inch “coffin” emblazoned “amor eterno.” My visit to Tucson coincided with a rumination in the New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenborg on the two pigs he’s raised, tamed, spent time with and soon will have dispatched to the great meat world beyond. A dia de los muertas for those pigs indeed.
This got me thinking about the six pigs my partner and I saw in later summer at Sprout Creek Farm, about 90 miles north of New York City. “They’re ready,” one of the nuns who runs the place told us matter-of-factly when we inquired about the pigs on this, what we’d understood to be a dairy and vegetable enterprise. In addition to the pigs, turkeys, chickens, ducks and even cows and goats would soon face their own dia de los muertas. The animals did seem to be having good lives: outdoors with plenty of room and soil in which to root and roam. And yet…those lives would be necessarily short and more or less forgotten, lost in the multitudes.
Some people’s lives, too, get lost. Overlooked, undervalued or forgotten altogether. But Dia de Los Muertas celebrations offer the possibility of their remembrance…of their “reincarnation” in those inventive, often wild skeleton art forms. What if, I wondered, the artisans, and revelers, created art from skeleton pigs and turkeys and calves as a way of remembering them, too, as individuals. Six skeletal pigs, or just two, could make quite a diorama.