Kites bring Day of Dead to life

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Jennifer Padilla usually honors her grandfather's memory each Day of the Dead by adorning a table with flowers and candy.

But Friday, the 8-year-old learned a new tradition to recognize "Dia de los Muertos": kites.

Brolly Arts, a nonprofit arts group in Salt Lake City, chose several Salt Lake City schools to teach the long-standing tradition of kite-making that comes from Mayan Indian villages in Guatemala.

There, families make 50-foot, elaborately designed kites, called "barriletes gigantes," out of tissue paper with bamboo supports. Often, the kites sport pictures of relatives. Their makers fly them on Nov. 1 to celebrate Day of the Dead and send telegrams to their dead relatives, who are believed to visit on that day.

The kites Brolly Arts director Amy McDonald Sanyer and Seattle artist-in-residence Greg Kono are making with children during Salt Lake District school visits planned through Wednesday are about 2 feet in diameter, and the children choose their own colors and designs.

"We have to be careful because they are fragile and could rip," Kuei Makol, 7, said Friday as she designed her kite, covered in hearts, stars and triangles, at Learning Plus, an after-school program at Parkview Elementary.

While Anthony Lane, 10, liked making his kite with "different designs" that he cut out of blue tissue paper, he says he still likes collecting candy on Halloween.

Sanyer's goal isn't to change children's traditions, but to inform them about other cultures' practices, especially those incorporating art.

"It's great to involve the art audiences of tomorrow. If we can show how arts are integrated in our lives when they are young, they'll appreciate it more when they get older," she said.

Originally, Sanyer had planned to have artists from Guatemala teach the more than 800 students she'll visit by Wednesday, but they weren't able to obtain visas. Instead, she brought in Kono, a kite maker who has partnered with the Drachen Foundation, which teaches the public about the history of kites.

"I hope these children learn about the culture of Guatemala and and have a hands-on experience with Day of the Dead. It's fun with cultural relevance," he said.

Dia de los Muertos tradition

l Two Mayan Indian villages in Guatemala create kites up to 50 feet in diameter out of tissue paper with bamboo supports.

l They design the kites with pictures of their dead relatives, who are believed to visit from the afterlife during Dia de los Muertos.

l The kites, which take up to six weeks to create, originally served as telegrams to communicate with and honor dead relatives. Now they are also used to promote peace.