Lakeland Community College Exhibit Traces Skulls and Skeletons in Pop Culture 

Grateful dead

Start your Halloween weekend early this Thursday at the Gallery at Lakeland Community College with gallery coordinator and exhibition curator Mary Urbas' Skull and Skeleton IV: Folk Art to Pop Culture, a celebration of Dia de los Muertos. This unique, biennial invitational began in 2009 with just 18 artists. It grew to 55 artists in 2011 and continued to expand to 64 artists in 2013. This year's exhibition includes more than 300 works by more than 80 artists from a dozen states and around the world.

"It's about embracing life and death and our mortality," says Urbas, a life-long collector of skull art and artifacts. "Being raised Roman Catholic, the rebellious side in me was drawn to skulls for the initial shock value. I took a life-changing trip to Mexico in the early '90s and embraced its cultural diversity and folk art. The rest, as the saying goes, is history!"

Urbas continues: "Dia de los Muertos invites the participant to acknowledge the fact that death is a constant companion from birth, an accepted friend to be joked and played with, perhaps because of the ironic foreknowledge of the fatal reality. What was once reserved as a quasi logo for pirates and poison labels, skulls have taken over America's pop culture. This timely exhibit happens to not only coincide with the traditional use of skulls and skeletons for Halloween, but also with Hispanic Heritage Month. Latin American artists were creating Mexican skull art for the Day of the Dead long before heavy metal bands used skulls on album artwork and fashion designers emblazoned their textiles."

Now in its fourth incarnation, this year's Skull and Skeleton show features work by more than 80 international, national, regional and local artists from a dozen states, including Ohio, Arizona, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington, as well as England and Mexico.

"I gather artists and images all the time, in preparation for the Skull and Skeleton exhibition, which I produce on odd years," Urbas says. "I visit almost every art show, juried exhibition and outdoor arts festival recruiting artists. Once I put the word out on Facebook, images were sent to me and referrals to check out other artists. I am active on social media and am always on the lookout for new artists, compelling work and visuals that reinforce my aesthetic. I can reach artists from all over and am able to invite them to participate in this show and others. I challenged a few of my artist friends to come over to the 'skele side' and create work. Quite a few took up the gauntlet and created some incredible art. There are skele collectors all over the world!"

The exhibition's 300 works feature a variety of media, including oil/ acrylic/encaustic painting, textiles/fiber, printmaking, drawing, photography, digital art, sculpture, glass, wood, ceramics and ceramic sculpture, mixed media, assemblage art and jewelry. Additionally, an ofrenda (temporary altar) will be created by the Urban Community School Middle School Art Club to honor the memories of departed relatives and friends.

"This year you'll see clay artists, jewelers, soft sculpture, outsider art and more. Devout Home (Rocky River) and Galeria Quetzal (Little Italy) specialize in Hispanic folk art and home furnishings, and will have selections from their collections on display," says Urbas. "I curate and include artists working in a variety of media and styles. Some of the images are fun, happy and colorful, more folk art inspired. Others are very dark, macabre, cynical and sarcastic. I wanted to share this 'culture' with the viewers and make them realize that there are quite a few artists working in this 'genre,' if you could call it so."

Stop by on Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. for an artist reception, costume party and Boneyard Market, featuring artists and artisan vendors selling skull and skeleton themed items at a lower price point.

"I added the Boneyard Market to the event, as an opportunity for some of the exhibiting artists to show some of their lower priced skull and skeleton themed items in a pop-up gallery type of venue," Urbas says. "Honestly, I run out of space every time I do this show. I can't seem to say no to artists who create cool and awesome work!"

The Boneyard Market includes work by Robert J. Carroll, Ron Carroll, Danielle Dore-Rook, Keri Gortz, Devout Home, Cris Hertle, Allen Kradlak, Less Ego, More Love, Susan M. Lucas, Deborah McGroder, RobinAnne Payne and Galeria Quetzal.

Selections from Urbas' personal skull-themed art collection will be displayed in the exhibition.

"I love and collect Mexican folk art, especially skulls and skeletons," says Urbas. "As the former diversity specialist at Lakeland, I wanted to curate a show that would connect with our student body — pun intended — to educate the public about Dia de los Muertos and its cultural contribution to world art. That it was based on a religious holiday and really wasn't about Halloween, it just occurred at the same time of year."

Skull and Skeleton in Art IV: Folk Art to Pop Culture remains on view through Nov. 6. Gallery tours with Mary Urbas are available by appointment. The exhibition and related events are free.

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