My 2015 Dia De Los Muertos Altar for My Best Friend, Patricia Butler

I’ve been thinking about Patricia a lot lately and then I remembered the Day of the Dead altar I made for her when I was taking ceramics classes at Barnsdall Art Center. Tomorrow is the Day of the Dead or All Soul’s Day, depending on your religious persuasion. Patricia was my best friend growing up. She died a few years back after developing malignant melanoma, which metastasized to her brain. I loved (and still love) her dearly.

Tonight was the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art exhibit at Barnsdall Art Center. I agreed to take part since my ceramics teacher suggested they needed people to build an altar for a loved one. I figured I had quite a few loved ones to pick from, after all. So, over the course of the weeks leading up to the exhibit, I gathered up various objects in my house for my brothers and sister. I thought I could honor all of them. However, this past week while in Ojai, I found a box that had belonged to my beloved best friend, Patricia Butler, and I decided then and there that I surely needed to honor Patricia for this particular Day of the Dead. The reason? She was an artist of the first order and would get such a kick out of the idea that I (never an artist) was showing my “work” in an art exhibit.

When I went up to set up her altar, I used everything that was in the box that were her possessions. This included two wide swathes of her hair that Ray cut for her once she started chemotherapy and radiation for malignant melanoma since she was anticipating all of her hair falling out. The hair sounds morbid, but I must say that when I found it in the box, it brought me great joy. Patricia had beautiful, thick blonde hair and it was always one of her best features. Seeing her hair again, brought her right back to me and it made me happy.

After I had everything placed on the altar – Mardi Gras beads, shell necklaces, bangles, several different types of gloves, a box with her hair, a couple of pictures of Patricia, a box of Ritz dye (she loved to dye things) and two lacy head covers that she and I routinely wore to church growing up – I stepped back to survey my handiwork. That’s when I felt the catch in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. The altar honored my sweet childhood friend who I have loved my entire life – during her life and now after it has ended. I was so happy to be reconnected with her for a brief time through this moving Mexican ritual. I could instantly see how healing this commemoration can be. There is reconnection and closure. Very healing, indeed.

Below are the pictures of my altar for Patricia. It is very simple. The Mexican blanket was hers also. The only object on the table that isn’t hers is the icon of St. Mary and the baby Jesus in the center. That is mine. However, Patricia was a devout Episcopalian and would be very pleased to have that icon right where it is.

This was a touching experience for me. I am pleased to say that Sarah, Luna, Ron, Liz, Ray and our friend, Darrah, from Texas were all there to see it. I missed Gregorio, who wasn’t able to make it. Alas, he was well represented by his wife, daughter and baby son who is in Sarah’s tummy at the moment, but who will be joining us in January.

Good night, friends. I hope you had a good day. I’ll be talking with you again soon.

Patricia’s Altar


Patricia with Long Hair and then with Short x 2


Patricia with her dogs


Another Angle of the Altar


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