Come and learn how to celebrate Día de Los Muertos with us at Heirloom Art Co. on October 16th. Tickets here.  Or stop by and see the ofrenda, or altar, created by Nadia Cates and Michelle Thorley.

Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is about real people; your people. It is not meant to be scary, quite the reverse, it is meant to connect you with loved ones you have not seen in awhile. Each family celebrates Day of the Dead differently, but there are a few elements that are traditional. Day of the Dead is a holiday started by indigenous civilizations in the Americas. Its purpose is to remember and connect with deceased family members.

Day of the Dead is celebrated the first and second of November. The first of November is called the day of the little angles. This day is for children and babies that have died. It is usually more of a somber day and very emotional. Many families put out the child’s favorite treats, toy and clothing. The second of November is when all kindred dead is celebrated. It is more of a party. The best way to celebrate day of the dead is by building an ofrenda, or altar, to worship the dead I have been doing a weekly instagram post about how to start your own ofrenda. A really good place to start is with your family photos. I have gathered some old ones and found some new ones on If you are not lucky enough to have family photos for your ofrenda, you can also use any heirlooms you have. I have a silk shawl from Spain from my grandmother. I have a hand carved bird that was carved by my great grandfather, a blue water pitcher that was owned by my great-grandmother and then given to my aunt, who then gave it to me a few months before she died of cancer last year. When I take the time to think that each of these physical objects were held in my families very hands, I do feel closer to them.

If you don’t have many photos or heirlooms, you still have some awesome options for your ofrenda. Because of our great friends at, we all have access to our families documents. Birth, wedding, census, and death. These documents are not only free, they are also high resolution! So that means poster size! This is a death document I made into a poster and I just love the elegant cursive writing. The poster size death record in the shop is of my great aunt who died as a little child. There are many family history related items that are totally appropriate for an ofrenda, such as family tree charts, gravestone rubbings or …original art work.

Plants and flowers are often found on ofrendas, they symbolize life and the richness of the earth. Our bodies are made from the dust and one day our bodies will return to the earth again. It states in Mosiah 2:25-26 “ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth.”

Marigolds, or cempacúcil flowers are an integral part of any ofrenda. They are known as the flower of the dead and their bright color and distinctive sent are thought to guide the dead back home. You will find cempasúchil flowers in almost all my paintings, guiding my ancestors to me and me to them.

Papel piccado, or punched paper, is hung around an ofrenda. The paper represents the curtain or veil between the living and the dead. When the paper moves in the breeze, it is an indicator that familial spirits have crossed over and are near. Candles are also found on ofrendas for similar reasons, visiting spirits are illuminated by the shadows made by the candles.

Sugar skulls are made and decorated to honor family members, the skull and skeleton are considered a symbol of life, they support our bodies and are the part of our bodies that last the longest.

Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a sweet bread. It is made bone-shaped radiating from the center and a dot on top representing a single tear. It is very common to place your families favorite treats, drinks, and food on your altar.

View Michelle Thorley's art here


By Michelle Franzoni Thorley 

follow her on Instagram @flora_familiar

Michelle Franzoni Thorley’s work, like her life, demonstrates hope and resilience.  An only child, she was raised by a savvy single mother, whose favorite color is green. In the times spent with her father, he taught Michelle about Mexican culture and to art.

She studied art briefly at Snow College before serving a bilingual-speaking mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Texas.  While there, she was injured in a serious car accident, which led to years of pain and medical bills and interrupted her studies.
With a husband and three small children, time for her art is still not easy to find, but her art is not about things that are easy; it is about finding beauty even when things are hard.  Using the vivid colors of oil paints and bold shapes reminiscent of her Mexican heritage, Michelle reminds her viewers that life can flourish in the desert and that peace can be found in adversity. 

October 09, 2018 — Heirloom Art & Co.

Leave a comment