Dia De Los Muertos: Dead live again in altars, artwork, celebrations

Dia De Los Muertos: Dead live again in altars, artwork, celebrations
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

On June 2 and 3, a huge field on the outskirts of Prairie Grove will hold the largest selection of open-air flea market booths in the Northwest Arkansas area. From polished antiques to funky vintage treasures to rusty farm finds, shoppers should be rewarded with just about anything they’re looking for at the Junk Ranch, which boasts 150 vendors and more than 200 booths.

We asked a few vendors what they’re bringing to the event, how they got involved in junking, and what their best find ever was.

Don Wilkinson

Don Wilkinson found his way to junking the way a lot of vendors do: he kept finding great stuff while shopping for his own collection of vintage Speas Vinegar bottles. So when he retired in his mid-50s after 35 years with the Arkansas Highway Department, he threw his hat into the flea market ring and got a booth at one of the largest flea markets in the country in Canton, Texas. After 10 years of selling at Canton, he moved up to an even bigger venue — Round Top, Texas, the Holy Grail of flea markets.

“It was a lot of work on my part,” he says. “We would haul seven or eight trailer loads down between shows, store them, and then we’d go down and set up and stay two weeks, selling. We sold to people from everywhere — California and everywhere. They got to buying from me, and they actually got to buying too much. It became too much of a job, and age took over.”

Wilkinson is 85 now, and he was thrilled when the Junk Ranch opened up so near his home in Mountainburg. Though the main product he sells are chicken laying houses — he estimates he’s sold around 30,000 over the course of his junking career — the booth he runs with his son is an eclectic mix of auction, estate and farm sale finds.

Wilkinson’s best find ever was deceptively simple: a box full of old bottle caps.

“I told my wife, ‘I found the Holy Grail,’” he remembers. “They were unused, cork-lined Dr Pepper bottle caps from 1907. The first bottle caps ever used on a Dr Pepper bottle.”

When he put them on eBay, he says, “people went crazy.”

Stacey Murphy

The Weathered Pearl

Stacey Murphy’s relationship with the Junk Ranch started off as a shopper.

“I loved the eclectic mix of old, used, collectible items and the vendor inspired pieces! I thought to myself, ‘I could do this,’” she recalls. “I applied the next year, and junk has been my livelihood ever since.”

Murphy advises yard sale shoppers to look for the signs with a torn piece of cardboard with the word “sale” scribbled across it as a marker.

“Often these sales are not advertised on social media, so it increases your chances of finding a hidden treasure,” she says.

She also hits the widely advertised sales, like the Oklahoma 100-mile Yard Sale. That’s where she found her favorite find: a 13-foot late 1800s banquet table discovered in a barn in Cleveland, Okla.

“I have done several shows all over Oklahoma and Arkansas, and I would say what sets the Junk Ranch apart from the others is the venue itself, the friendly vendors, the amazing shoppers, but most of all how well [Junk Ranch founders] Amy [Daniels] and Julie [Speed] have it organized,” Murphy says.

Tracy Davis

Rusty Heart Relics

“I have always loved old things as long as I can remember,” says Tracy Davis of Rusty Heart Relics. “My mama had an eye for the ornate and passed it along to me. We spent many a weekend traveling the roads for that elusive treasure.”

For her booth, she stocks a wide variety of items.

“I love vintage and antique garden items, primitive and antique furniture, and holiday decor,” she says. “I loved MCM before it was cool.”

Her favorite find is an antique child’s bedroom suite she found at the famed Texas flea market Round Top.

“It is a beautiful faded robin’s egg blue with a painted design, and it’s to die for,” she says.

Davis has had a love affair with the Junk Ranch since the first year.

“From the live music and food trucks to the mountains of treasures and lovely vendors, I knew this was the show that I wanted to be a part of,” she says. “Amy and Julie are the best and treat us like family.”



Junk Ranch

WHEN — 9 a.m.-3 pm. June 2; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 3; tickets go on sale at 8 a.m.

WHERE — 11195 Centerpoint Church Road in Prairie Grove

COST — $10

INFO — thejunkranch.net

For Silvia Merino, events director for the Latin Art Organization of Arkansas, celebrating Dia de los Muertos was a family tradition all through her childhood. Merino says the annual celebration started on the evening of Oct. 31, when the family started assembling an altar or “ofrenda.”

“In my family, and this happens in most houses in Mexico, we would prepare an altar with pictures of everybody in our family who had passed away, and the food that they liked when they were alive, and we remember what they were doing when they were alive, and then we go to bed,” she explains. “We think and believe that our ancestors come through that night — the little ones that passed away come Nov. 1, and then, on Nov. 2, come the adults. So once we finish on Nov. 2, we can eat all of the food that was part of the altar. And what most of the families do is bring all of that food to the cemetery.”

The celebration, explains Merino, is not about grief. Instead, it’s about remembering those we loved and lost, keeping those memories alive by celebrating who they were and what they meant to us. Merino says her family would usually bring a mariachi band to the cemetery to celebrate.

“I think that it would be good for everybody to know that what we wear for the Day of the Dead is not a costume, it’s culture,” says Silvia Merino. “I don’t feel offended because sometimes people don’t know — it’s kind of funny that people say, ‘I want to be a Catrina for Halloween’ — but I think it’s important for people to understand that we don’t expect to see people dressed as a Catrina for Halloween.” (File Photo/Flip Putthoff)

“We have drinks, we have food,” she says. “It’s basically a party. I didn’t know exactly what losing someone meant until I lost my dad. It’s different when it’s someone who is so close to you. This makes me feel close to him — fixing the food that he liked and trying to find the cigarettes he liked, which are very hard to find in the United States. I have to order the cigarettes from Texas or somewhere else so I can have them for him. Just that preparation makes me feel like he’s going to come. He’s going to come, he’s going to eat my food, and we’re going to hug each other, at least in my dreams.”

Merino’s organization has been hosting a Northwest Arkansas Dia de los Muertos celebration for around eight years now, and, she says, it just keeps getting bigger every year. This year, the altar building by the organization began on Oct. 31 at Shiloh Square in Springdale, with the public invited to bring their offerings — photographs and/or food items in memory of their loved ones — on Nov. 2. The Procesion del Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead Procession — is scheduled to begin at noon on Nov. 6 at Shiloh Square; once completed, mariachi Joya Azteca and dance company Ballet Folklorico Herencia de Mexico will officially kick off the communitywide celebration.

Joining that celebration are partners Arts One Presents and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. Anne Jackson, Arts One Presents executive director, says it was important for her organization to continue the relationship that the Arts Center of the Ozarks had with the Latin Art Organization of Arkansas.

“We’re continuing that partnership by curating an art exhibition that will be on view at the Shiloh Museum from Nov. 6 until Dec. 4,” explains Jackson. “With this specific exhibition, we’re telling the multi-generational stories of how various generations interpret this day of celebration honoring their loved ones.”

Artwork by Isaac Helguera will also be featured in “Dia de Muertos: A Cultural Interpretation of the Times,” on show Nov. 6-Dec. 4 at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. The exhibition is a partnership between the Shiloh Museum, the Latin Art Organization of Arkansas and Arts One Presents, the organization formerly known as the Arts Center of the Ozarks. The museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and admission is free. For information, call 750-8165. (Courtesy Image/Arts One Presents)

Jackson says around 30 works of art will be on display.

“We accepted submissions in both English and Spanish, some from Little Rock as well as throughout the Northwest Arkansas region,” she says. “The submissions have been really incredible. I think we’ll have an incredible showing of artists, and the majority of them have been from LatinX artists and a few who would identify as supporters of the LatinX community — all interpretations of Dia de los Muertos.”

Jackson says working with the Shiloh Museum, the Latin Art Organization of Arkansas — as well as with Downtown Springdale Alliance and CACHE — helps spread awareness about all the organizations involved and what’s going on in downtown Springdale.

“Having the opportunity to go beyond one facility has really forged the way for the Downtown Springdale Alliance, the Latin Art Organization, the Shiloh Museum and even CACHE to come on board and figure out ways in which we can support one another and help one day of celebration help broaden the reach for all of us.”



Dia de los Muertos

In Springdale

WHEN — Day of the Dead Procession, noon Nov. 6; music, dancing, crafts and food, 1 p.m. Nov. 6

WHERE — Shiloh Square in downtown Springdale

COST — Free

INFO — latinartarkansas.org




Dia De Los Muertos

Fenix Arts’ Day of the Dead exhibit opened on Oct. 22, and a celebration and awards ceremony will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Nov. 6. A Day of the Dead ofrenda will be set up at Cottage Circle Gazebo directly across from the gallery, and the evening will feature a parade, led by a giant monarch butterfly and traditional Mexican folklorico dancers, from the gallery to the gazebo. Community members are invited to place objects and items on the ofrenda in remembrance of their deceased relatives. The evening will also feature traditional food and “Day of the Dead” art projects created by students at Springdale and Har-Ber high schools. Among participating artists is Isaac Helguera, whose work is pictured here. Fenix Arts is at 150 N. Skyline Drive in Fayetteville. Call 530-6023 for more information.

Categories: Family Friendly