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100 Años de Posada y Su Catrina


macintosh hd:users:alicia:desktop:1990.45 e_posada.jpg

y su Catrina


©National Museum Of Mexican Art, 2013


This Educator Guide was created with the support of:

100 Años de Posada y Su Catrina Exhibition Curated by: 

Dolores Mercado

Educator Guide Production:

Alicia Serrano

Writing Team:

Alicia Serrano

Dolores Mercado

Mariana Flores González and Audias Roldán

Blanca Estela Tinoco and the Museum of Popular Arts and Industry of Pátzcuaro

Special Thanks to:

Raquel Aguinaga-Martinez and Ricardo X. Serment

Cover Image:
 José Guadalupe Posada, The Fancy Lady / La Calaca Catrina, (from the portfolio entitled “1880-1980: 100 Years of Popular Art in the Morelos Labradores 91 Neighborhood”) , 1983. Relief etching restrike from vintage plate, N.N. National Museum of Mexican Art Permanent Collection, 1990.45 E

Table of Contents
Introduction page 4
100 Años de Posada y Su Catrina Exhibition Overview: page 5

Subtopics and Artwork page 5

Essential Questions page 5

Common Core Standards Met by Using this Guide page 5

Background Information page 8

Biography of Jose Guadalupe Posada Aguilar page 8

Biografía de José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar page 9

La Catrina – English page 10

La Catrina – español page 10

Two Day of the Dead Traditions: page 11

Offering for the Day of the Dead page 11

in Xalitla, Guerrero

Making the Wreath of Flowers page 12

for the Deceased (Nurio, Michoacan)

Dos Tradiciones del Dia de los Muertos page 13

Ofrenda para el Dia de los Muertos page 13

en Xalitla, Guerrero

Haciendo la Corona para los Difuntos page 14

(Nurio, Michoacán)
Glossary page 15
Books page 16
Websites page 17
Lesson Plan Ideas page 18

Calavera Poems-Part I (Gr. 7-12) page 18

Calavera Poems-Part II (Gr. 7-12) page 21

Culminating Hands-on Activity: Calavera Prints page 22

Catrin and Catrina Figurines (Gr. K-6) page 25
Exhibition Images page 27



The National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) is proud to dedicate our 2013 Day of the Dead exhibition to the 100th anniversary of the death of the great Mexican artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada. Although Posada was cited as a major influence by some of the major masters of art in Mexico including Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, he was not widely recognized and respected in his own time. In fact, he was run out of some of the places he worked in because of the controversial satirical content of his prints. Posada was responsible, however, for incorporating the idea of celebrating everyday life in art and using comedy and expressive drawing to comment on social issues. His carefree portrayal of skeletal imagery, in particular, cemented the iconography and theme of Death as an equalizing element in both Mexican fine and folk art.

Teaching and Learning Goals

In creating this guide, the National Museum Of Mexican Art (NMMA) intends to offer curricular resources for teachers and their students in order to increase their understanding and appreciation of Mexican art and culture. As teachers use aspects or sections of this guide, they will increase their students’ cultural and visual literacy while reinforcing reading and writing skills. While students expand their fluency about Mexican culture, they will gain understanding of diverse groups and multiple perspectives.

Using the Educator Guide

The 100 Años de Posada y Su Catrina Educator Guide offers teachers a range of resources to choose from and integrate into their regular classroom curriculum. The Educator Guide includes resources such as background information, activities, student handouts, a list of resources on Posada and images from NMMA exhibitions.

NOTE: Before implementing any of the activities included in this guide, we recommend that teachers read all of the background information provided and preview all the student handouts or images in order to facilitate their usage. Also, to give students a richer and well-rounded exposure to the content, we strongly recommend that teachers integrate a field trip visit to the 100 Años de Posada y Su Catrina Exhibition at the NMMA.

EXHIBITION: 100 Años de Posada y su Catrina

THESIS: The legacy of Jose Guadalupe Posada is felt today throughout the art, folk art and Day of the Dead traditions of Mexico because of his lighthearted approach to the subject of Death, his satirical depiction of current events and expressive artistic style.


1 - The legacy of Jose Guadalupe Posada

2 - Traditional and Non-Traditional Altars

3 - Contemporary Expressions of Day of the Dead


  • Jose Guadalupe

  • The Broadside as artifact

  • Influence on Mexican Muralism

  • Printmaking

  • Expressionism

  • Political satire

  • Caricature

  • Traditional Day of the Dead Altar elements

  • Altar from Michoacan

  • Contemporary Altars


  • La Calaca Catrina and La Calavera Oaxaqueña by JG Posada

  • Sun Raid by Esther Hernandez

  • Homage to Posada by Carlos Cortez

  • Hacer la Corona de Flores a los Difuntos (Nurio, Michoacan Altar)

  • Reflections of Loss: The Sandy Hook Tragedy by Steinmetz HS

  • Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca Prints

  • Soldiers Coming Home by Carlos Gomez

  • Violent City by Errol Ortiz

Essential Questions for Exhibition
Use these questions to drive discussions and also to assess the knowledge of students before and after they visit the exhibition. The goal of these questions is to spark student’s inquiry and to help them focus on the main themes of the exhibition.

  • What is the function of satire or comedy? How is it useful?

  • What do the people who celebrate Day of the Dead value? How can you tell?

  • How do different people perceive the subject of Death?

Common Core Standards Met by Using this Guide
English Language Arts Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

English Language Arts Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

English Language Arts Standards

History/Social Studies - Grade 6-8

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

English Language Arts Standards

History/Social Studies - Grade 9-10

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

English Language Arts Standards

History/Social Studies - Grade 11-12

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a who

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.



By Dolores Mercado

José Guadalupe Posada was born on February 2, 1852 in the city of Aguascalientes, Mexico. His parents, Germán Posada and Petra Aguilar, also natives of Aguascalientes, had 8 children. Posada also had a half-brother.
José Guadalupe Posada started to draw as a teenager. For a short time he attended a drawing school led by Mr. Antonio Varela. He worked as a lithography apprentice in the workshop of Mr. Trinidad Pedroza, and then as an illustrator with the political newspaper, El Jicote, edited by Mr. Pedroza. For political reasons Mr. Pedroza had to leave the city and move his printing studio to León, Guanajuato. Posada followed him to be able to continue participating in the printing studio, and it was here when he learned to work in wood and metal.
In 1887 Posada left León, Guanajuato to go to Mexico City where he opened his first workshop. It was there where he created a vast amount of vignettes and illustrations for newspapers, printers, and magazines that requested them. This is how he met the editor Mr. Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. Posada worked for him until the end of his life. This was a tremendously productive collaboration because of the brilliant work that Vanegas Arroyo did as an editor, and the incredible strength and creativity of the illustrations created by Posada. In a period of 40 years, Posada created twenty thousand etchings, of which only a thousand survive.
It was the genius of José Guadalupe Posada that made the image of the garbanzo vendor “Catrina”, now recognized throughout the world. The “Calaveras” (the tradition of political poems where image and verse come together to make fun of politicians, artists, and people in high society) also grew in popularity during these years. Posada illustrated the injustices committed against the working classes and created a legacy for future generations of Mexican artists who view him as an illustrious example of creativity and commitment to the vulnerable classes.
On January 20, 1913, at 9am, Posada died alone and in poverty. The great genius of the graphic arts was buried in a common grave.


Por Dolores Mercado

Posada nació el 2 de febrero de 1852 en la ciudad de Aguascalientes, México. Sus padres Germán Posada y Petra Aguilar -originarios también de Aguascalientes- tuvieron 8 hijos. Posada tenia además un medio hermano.
José Guadalupe Posada comenzó a dibujar siendo un adolescente. Asistió por poco tiempo a una academia de dibujo dirigida por Don Antonio Varela. Trabajo como aprendiz de litografía en el taller de Don Trinidad Pedroza. Fue ilustrador del periódico político El Jicote dirigido por Pedroza. Por cuestiones políticas Don Trinidad Pedroza tuvo que dejar la ciudad y cambiar su taller a León, Guanajuato. Posada lo siguió para poder seguir participando en el taller, fue en ésta época cuando aprendió a trabajar en madera y metal.
En 1887 Posada salió de León, Guanajuato para irse a la ciudad de México en donde instaló su primer taller. Fue aquí en donde creó una cantidad enorme de viñetas e ilustraciones para periódicos, imprentas y revistas que lo solicitaban. Así fue como conoció al editor Don Antonio Vanegas Arroyo; hasta el final de su vida Posada trabajó para él. Esta fue una colaboración extremadamente productiva por el brillante trabajo que Vanegas Arroyo realizaba como editor, y la increíble fuerza y creatividad de las ilustraciones que Posada creaba. En un lapso de 40 años de trabajo, Posada creo veinte mil grabados de los cuales solamente se conservan mil.
Fue el genio de José Guadalupe Posada el que ha hecho que la imagen de “La Catrina” garbancera sea reconocida mundialmente. Las “Calaveras” también se hicieron una tradición popular en donde la imagen y el verso se reúnen para hacer burla de políticos, artistas y gente de la alta sociedad. Posada retrató las injusticias que se hacían al pueblo y dejó un legado para las nuevas generaciones de artistas mexicanos que lo toman como ejemplo de creatividad y compromiso hacia las clases desprotegidas.
El 20 de enero de 1913 a las 9 de la mañana, Posada murió solo y en la pobreza. El gran genio de la gráfica fue enterrado en una fosa común.


By Dolores Mercado

Mexico’s greatest printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), created La Catrina (the fancy lady) in 1913. Dressed in a feathered, wide brimmed hat, and decorated with jewels, she was meant to parody upper class women during the autocratic rule of Porfirio Díaz. Regardless of her elegant outward appearance, her skeletal form reveals her ultimate fate.
La Catrina has since become a Mexican cultural icon, humorously representing every person’s destiny on earth. She appears in Diego Rivera’s mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon at the Alameda (1948), clutching the hand of the artist as a young boy. Today she continues to appear as subject matter in the work of contemporary artists. Her image is reproduced in a variety of media time and time again, and is recognized by all as the great equalizer.


Por Dolores Mercado

El gran maestro del grabado mexicano, José Guadalupe Posada (1852 – 1913), creó el personaje de la Catrina en 1913. Vestida con un elegante y ancho sombrero con bordes de plumas y engalanada con joyas, la Catrina fue creada como una parodia de las mujeres de la clase alta durante la dictadura de Porfirio Díaz; sin embargo, a pesar de su lujosa apariencia, su rostro esquelético revela su destino final.
Desde entonces, la Catrina se ha convertido en un símbolo de la cultura mexicana que humorísticamente representa el destino de todas las personas en esta vida. La Catrina aparece en el mural de Diego Rivera, Sueños de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (1947-48), tomada de la mano del artista quien esta pintado como un niño. En la actualidad la Catrina continua apareciendo como tema principal en los trabajos de artistas contemporáneos. Su imagen se ha reproducido una y otra vez en una gran variedad de materiales, y es reconocida por todos como la gran igualadora.

Two Day of the Dead Traditions

Although Day of the Dead is observed throughout different parts of Mexico, the holiday is celebrated in unique ways in different regions. This year the Museum is proud to present two altars that highlight some of the traditions of two regions in Mexico: Xalitla, Guerrero and Nurio, Michoacan. Below are some descriptions of the Day of the Dead traditions in these two towns to compare and contrast.


By Mariana Flores González and Audias Roldán

In Xalitla, Guerrero (our home town) three days are devoted to make offerings to the dead. The preparations start a month earlier. The products are bought in the city: rice, sugar, cacao, dry chili, tomatillo, salt, candles, lamps, peanuts, copal, cinnamon, and a new incense burner. One day before the ofrenda is put out, velvet flowers, marigolds, and fresh fruit are bought.
October 31

On this day the offering is put out dedicated to all deceased children. People get up very early in the morning to prepare hot drink of rice, milk and cinnamon, cooked in a clay pot. The ofrenda is put out early. Hot rice drink with milk, rolls, puff pastry, bread with prizes and flowers, candles, lamps, and fruit. When the offering is finally placed fireworks are set off indicating that the offering is ready. The offering remains all night long, it is taken away the next day.

November 1

This offering is dedicated to deceased adults. From very early in the morning people start grinding the nixtamal (made with cooked maize) on a stone mill. At home the preparation of the tamales de nejo (ash) starts. The dough is wrapped in fresh corn leaves. The red chicken broth is also prepared (made with free range hens), green chili sauce and sesame sauce. At 10 am the offering of fresh food is put out, and remains through the entire evening. The next day the offering is removed with the flowers, candles, and fruit that the deceased person liked.

November 2

This offering is dedicated to all faithful departed and all the deceased who have been forgotten, or who no longer have family members to give them an offering. Starting very early in the day people remove the offerings for their dead, after doing that they start preparing the new offering for that day, known as the “chocolate offering.” Water is boiled in a clay pot and the chocolate bars are added. Rolls, puff pastry, fruit, dried flowers and candles are also added to the chocolate offering. Fireworks are set off to dispel the bad spirits. A rosary is placed in each home for the 3 days of offering.


(In Purépecha language: uirhimukua tsitsikiri untani uarhrichani)

By Blanca Estela Tinoco and the

Museum of Popular Arts and Industry of Pátzcuaro
The town of Nurio, an indigenous community belonging to the municipality of Paracho (in Michoacan), celebrates the feast day of All Saints’ Day.
Starting on October 31, a family with a recently deceased member prepares for the celebration of the ofrenda (offering), which in this community is known as a “corona” or wreath. The house where the departed soul will be welcomed, opens its doors early on for other family members and friends who will come to share and contribute to the ofrenda. Flowers, candles, or even money, which will be used to cover the expenses for that day are offered.
Male family members in charge of making the wreath, gather out in front of the house. Once they have finished, it is taken inside, to a large room where a table has been set up for the wreath. It is placed in the center of the table while the corners are adorned with arches made of reeds and flowers. The women, meanwhile, are in charge of helping with kitchen duties, and preparing the food that will be offered to the guests.
Very early on the morning of November 1, the family will go to the cemetery to place the ofrenda on the grave of the deceased. By this time the site should already be adorned with an arbor (made by the closest male relatives) that identifies the grave of the deceased to whom the offering is being made. The wreath is placed there along with some food, and the essential flowers, candle, and water. The guests and the family will remain there until after noon, at which time everything is gathered and taken back home to await the big day.
On November 2 the ketsitani, or offering, is taken to the cemetery again where the family will stay accompanying the deceased until evening as a sign that they fulfilled their responsibility.

Dos Tradiciones del Dia de los Muertos
Aunque el Día de los Muertos se celebra en diferentes partes de México, este día festivo es celebrado de manera distinta en diferentes regiones de México. Este año el Museo orgullosamente presenta a dos altares que muestran las tradiciones de dos regiones de México: Xalitla, Guerrero y Nurio, Michoacán. Al seguir hay dos descripciones de estas tradiciones para comparar.


Por Mariana Flores González y Audias Roldán

En Xalitla, Guerrero -nuestro pueblo-, se dedican 3 días de ofrenda a los difuntos. Los preparativos se inician desde un mes antes. Se compran los productos en la ciudad: arroz, azúcar, cacao, chile seco, tomatillo, sal, velas, veladoras, cacahuates, copal, canela y un sahumerio nuevo. Un día antes de ponerse la ofrenda se compran flores de terciopelo, flores de cempasúchil y frutas frescas.
31 de octubre

Este día se pone la ofrenda dedicada a todos los niños difuntos. Muy temprano en la mañana la gente se levanta para preparar el atole de arroz con leche y canela, cosiéndose el atole en una olla de barro. La ofrenda se pone temprano. Atole de arroz con leche, pan de torta, pan de hojaldra, pan de muñequitos con flores, velas, veladoras y frutas. Cuando se termina de poner la ofrenda se echan cohetes en señal de que la ofrenda esta puesta. La ofrenda permanece toda la noche, al día siguiente se retira.

1 de noviembre

Esta ofrenda esta dedicada a los difuntos adultos. Desde muy temprano la gente se va a moler el nixtamal -que viene siendo el maíz cosido- al molino. En casa se empieza la preparación de los tamales de nejo (ceniza). La masa se envuelve en hojas frescas de milpa verde. También se prepara el caldo de pollo rojo -de gallinas criollas de rancho-, mole verde y mole de ajonjolí. A las 10 de la mañana se pone la ofrenda de comida fresca, quedando puesta toda la noche. Al día siguiente la ofrenda se retira con flores, velas y frutas de las que al difunto le gustaba.

2 de noviembre

Esta ofrenda esta dedicada a todos los fieles difuntos y a todos los difuntos que fueron olvidados, o que ya no tienen familia que les ponga una ofrenda. Desde muy temprano la gente retira la ofrenda para los difuntos adultos, después de hacer esto se empieza a preparar la nueva ofrenda para este día, la “ofrenda de chocolate”. En una olla de barro se pone a hervir agua y se le agregan las tablillas de chocolate. A la ofrenda de chocolate también se le agrega pan de torta, pan de hojaldra, frutas, flores frescas, y velas. Para ahuyentar a los malos espíritus se echan cohetes. Para los 3 días de ofrenda se pone un rosario en cada hogar.



Por Blanca Estela Tinoco y

Museo de Artes e Industrias Populares de Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

En el poblado de Nurio, comunidad indígena perteneciente al municipio de Paracho se celebra la festividad de todos los santos.
Desde el día 31 de octubre, la familia que tiene un difunto reciente se prepara para la celebración de la ofrenda, que en esta comunidad toma el nombre de “corona”. La casa donde se espera el ánima del que partió, abre sus puertas desde muy temprano para esperar también a los familiares y amigos que han de llegar a acompañar y a entregar parte de esa ofrenda, ya sean flores, velas e incluso dinero, mismo que será ocupado en los gastos necesarios para ese día.
Los familiares hombres son los encargados de elaborar la corona, congregándose al frente de la casa para tal fin. Una vez que han terminado, se lleva dentro de la casa, a un lugar espacioso donde se ha dispuesto una mesa para que la corona sea colocada en el centro; las esquinas de la mesa se adornan con arcos hechos de vara y flores. Las mujeres, mientras tanto, se encargan de ayudar con el quehacer en la cocina; preparando los alimentos que se ofrecerán a los acompañantes.
Al día siguiente, el primero de noviembre muy temprano, se partirá con la ofrenda hacia el panteón para colocarla en la tumba del difunto, que para ese entonces ha de estar ya adornada con una enramada hecha por los parientes hombres más cercanos, identificando así el lugar del difunto a quien se le ofrenda. Ahí se asienta la corona y algunos alimentos, sin faltar las flores, velas y agua. Los acompañantes y la familia permanecerán ahí hasta pasado el mediodía, hora en que se recoge para ser llevada nuevamente a la casa y esperar el día grande.
El día dos de noviembre la Ketsitani u ofrenda es llevada otra vez al panteón y ahí permanecerá la familia acompañando al difunto hasta ya entrada la tarde en señal de que ya se cumplió.


  • satire - the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

  • printmaking - Art form consisting of the production of images, usually on paper but occasionally on fabric, parchment, plastic, or other support, by various techniques of multiplication, under the direct supervision of or by the hand of the artist. Such fine prints are considered original works of art, even though they can exist in multiple copies. The major techniques are relief printing, where the background is cut away, leaving a raised image; intaglio printing, where the image is incised directly into the plate; surface printing such as lithography, where the image is painted or drawn onto a stone; and stencil printing, where the design is cut out and printed by spraying paint or ink through the stencil.

  • negative space - Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.

  • broadside - An unfolded sheet of paper printed on one side only. A broadside is an advertisement or announcement printed on a broadsheet.

  • ofrenda – Means ‘offering’ in Spanish. During Day of the Dead, ofrendas are prepared foods, drinks and items dedicated to a deceased person and placed as an offering to them for their souls as they return back to Earth.

  • corona – Means ‘wreath’ in Spanish. In the Nurio, Michoacan Day of the Dead altars, wreaths of flowers are created as offerings to the dead.

  • calavera – Means ‘skull’ in Spanish. During Day of the Dead, calaveras are special obituary-like poems written in a style that satirizes the person that the poem is dedicated to.


Mrs. Smith is so very boring

She’ll go teach the dead and have them snoring

Oh Mrs. Smith we’ll sure miss you

But please take the tests, and quizzes too!
Calaveras are usually written in couplets, where the last words rhyme with each other.


  • Posada's Popular Mexican Prints (Dover Fine Art, History of Art), Dover Publications, 1972.

Nearly 275 19th-century woodcuts by Mexico's most illustrious graphic artist. Created for publisher A. Vanegas Arroyo in Mexico City, the images commemorate all sorts of occasions, from disasters to political events, glorify popular heroes such as Zapata, and showcase Posada's famous calaveras, the lively skeletons of The Day of the Dead.

  • Miliotes, Diane. Jose Guadalupe Posada and the Mexican Broadside (Art Institute of Chicago), Art Institute of Chicago, 2006.

Bilingual (Spanish/English)
José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913), one of Mexico’s most important graphic artists, influenced the generation who lived through and pictured the Mexican Revolution. His powerful and visually arresting newspaper illustrations and woodcut broadsides––whose subjects range from news to religion, from corridos (escapades of bandits and heroes) to calaveras (skeletal figures associated with the Day of the Dead)––reflect indigenous folk-art traditions. In these graphically powerful penny handbills, Posada responded to the political and social issues of his day, addressed cultural ills, and spread moral ideas.
Focusing on the Art Institute of Chicago’s impressive and previously unpublished collection of prints by Posada, this handsome book examines his work and places it in the larger context of Mexican printmaking in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With beautiful reproductions of Posada’s forceful and lively prints, as well as fascinating technical analyses of these works, the book is essential to anyone interested in the graphic arts of Latin America.

  • The Day of the Dead: A Pictorial Archive of Dia de Los Muertos (Dover Pictorial Archive) 

Calaveras — grotesque yet lively representations of costumed skeletons — are associated with Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities. This compilation of 187 multi-character prints and spot illustrations includes many works by José Guadalupe Posada, Mexico's most illustrious graphic artist. The images are also included on the bonus CD-ROM in JPEG and TIFF formats.


  • Tuck, Jim. Mexico's Daumier: Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852 - 1913). Mexconnect, Web, 2000,
Website has a good concise biography of Posada and his impact on Mexican art.

  • Planas, Roque, Jose Guadalupe Posada: Artist Behind Day Of The Dead Images. The Huffington Post, Web, 2012,
Article contains a great slideshow of Posada prints that can be expanded to full screen.

  • The Calaveras of Jose Guadalupe Posada. The Public Domain Review, Web, 2012,

Site contains good images of Posada’s Calavera posters and some of the prints featured in these.

  • Jose Guadalupe Posada: My Mexico. University of Hawaii Art Gallery, Web, 2001,

Site contains several works by Posada with good background explanations.

  • McGreal, Lauren. Days of the Dead Art. Incredible Art Department, Web,
Site contains some art lesson plan ideas inspired by Posada.

  • Posada: Printmaker to the People, Academic Film Archive of North America, YouTube, Video,

12-minute video with music featuring Posada’s prints.

Calavera Poems - Part I

Materials: Calavera handout copies, copies of political cartoons, newspaper obituaries
Duration: 1 class session

Grades: 7-12

Guiding Questions: How is satire used to convey an opinion? When is satire useful?

The Mexican community also celebrates Day of the Dead through writing special poems called calaveras. Calavera literally means skull, but around the time of Dia de Muertos, it also refers to a unique Mexican poetic form. Calaveras refer to imaginary obituaries of people who are still alive. These poetic obituaries appear in newspapers all over Mexico and humorously criticize well-known individuals, famous people, politicians, or other professionals such as cooks, artists, barbers or teachers. They are also considered “popular” literature meaning they are meant for mass consumption.

During the time of Day of the Dead in Mexico, calaveras are written in humorous, whimsical, critical or satirical tone. The subject of death is traditionally taken very lightly at this time. Day of the Dead is not a scary time for people. Instead, these traditions celebrate life and poke fun at the living, reminding people that death is a very natural part of life.
Before introducing this activity, explain to students that calaveras are also considered a form of satire, especially when they make fun of famous people or politicians. Calaveras typically reflect on public figures and exaggerate their qualities. A good way to illustrate the use of satire is political cartoons. You may want to have some examples of political cartoons from online newspapers or magazines, such as the New York Times, or the New Yorker.
Once the class has discussed what satire is, and why it might be used, distribute the Calavera Student handout and have students read and analyze the two Calaveras so they can see examples of this poetic form. Explain to them that they are usually written in couplets – two lines of verse that have similar rhythms and whose last words rhyme. Not all calaveras rhyme, however. Some vary in length as well. You may want to review couplets and how they are used in poetry. Surprise your students by writing your own fun calavera about them, another teacher or the school principal.

There’s a mean old lady that lives next door

She yells and she screams and stomps on the floor

One day she sneezed so hard that her hat fell down

I picked it up and looked at her frown

She was really a skeleton from her toes to her head

Don’t be scared, one day you’ll look like me, she said!

Mrs. Smith is so very boring

She’ll go teach the dead and have them snoring

Oh Mrs. Smith we’ll sure miss you

But please take the tests, and quizzes too!
Assessment: Ask students to compare and contrast obituaries in a newspaper and Calaveras. What do they both reveal about the attitudes different cultures may have about death?

Name: _____________________________________ Student Handout

Calavera Poems
Calaveras (skulls) are a unique form of Mexican poetry. They are imaginary obituaries of people who are still alive that are often written in a humorous or satirical tone. Calaveras appear in newspapers all over Mexico and criticize well-known individuals or people from the community.

The most famous calavera illustration is that of “La Catrina” (fashionable lady) created by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Posada is best known for his calavera illustrations meant to satirize the upper class.

Sample Calaveras
There’s a mean old lady that lives next door

She yells and she scrams and stomps on the floor

One day she sneezed so hard that her hat fell down

I picked it up and looked at her frown

She was really a skeleton form her toes to her head

Don’t be scare, one day you’ll look like me, she said!

Mrs. Smith is so very boring

She’ll go teach the dead and have them


Oh Mrs. Smith we’ll sure miss you

But please take the tests, and quizzes too!
What is the rhyming pattern?

How many couplets do you see?

What is the tone of the calavera?

What kind of person is it describing? Who is it dedicated to?

Why do you think people began to write calaveras?

Can you think of any other similar “popular” literature traditions?

Can you sketch a skeleton representing any of the two characters in the style of Jose Guadalupe Posada?

Calavera Poems - Part II

Grades: 7-12

Duration: 1-2 Class Sessions

After having read the sample calaveras in the previous activity, students can now write their own. Instruct students to think of a celebrity or a well-known person in their community that they would like to write about. Remind students that in many ways, calaveras can reflect society through the way that people are described. Share with students the following questions so they can brainstorm. As they began to brainstorm their ideas, ask students to look for words that rhyme. They can write as many couplets as they like.

1. Choose a famous or well-known person.

2. What does this person do? What are they famous for?

3. What could you criticize and exaggerate about this person?

4. What adjectives can you use to describe him or her?

5. Is there anything that his person does that could be considered funny or silly?

6. Is there a message you would like to share about this person?

7. How can you make it humorous or use satire to describe the person?
Here is a sample celebrity calavera about Britney Spears:
Britney Spears, popular dancer and singer

Is not a good mom, puts her kids through the wringer

Newspaper headlines made her change her tune

Only good behavior for them all, real soon

Foreign Language Connection:
Have your students try the same activity in Spanish. Here is a sample celebrity Calavera about Shakira in Spanish:
Shakira, cantante famosa

No le hace falta moverse, no es perezosa

Sus súper canciones

Rompen corazones

Social Science/History Connection
Ask students to write calaveras about historical figures from different eras or from a particular time in history they are already studying. Students can complete a class set of poetic biographies/calaveras that focus on key issues, accomplishments or blunders of the historical figures. Remind them to make them humorous or use satire.
Culminating Hands-on Activity: Calavera Prints

Materials: Rubber printing blocks (1 per student), linoleum cutter, ink stamp pads, 8 ½” x 11” card stock paper, pencils

Note: If you do not have some of these materials in your classroom or if you want to modify the activity for younger students, you may substitute the rubber printing block with a foam plate, and the carving tools with a modeling stylus or pencil.

Grades: 7-12

Duration: 1-2 Class Sessions

In this activity, students will be able to create their own calavera print. A print is a work of art made by carving a design on a hard surface that is inked and pressed onto paper. Ask students to gather the materials and follow these instructions in order to create a calavera print to accompany their celebrity calavera they wrote earlier in the unit. Visual instructions are at the end of the lesson plan.

1. Review the celebrity calavera you wrote earlier and think of some of the salient attributes or descriptions of the person you selected.
2. Brainstorm symbols or images that can depict those attributes or descriptions.
3. Using the Posada prints from the previous handout as inspiration and guidance, sketch your celebrity in the form of a skull or a skeleton and add some of his or her personal details. You may do this on a separate sheet of paper first and then transfer the image onto the block.
4. Carve out the negative space areas (those that do not receive ink) of your block and make sure that your image remains raised on your block (hint: If you want your lines to be dark, carve the space around the lines). This is now your master block from which the prints will be made.
If you are using foam plates as your master block, cut out a square or rectangle out of the center of the foam plate. Make sure to press firmly with a stylus or pencil when drawing the image.
5. When the image is complete, press the master block onto the inkpad. Make sure that every piece of the foam plate. Make sure to press firmly with a stylus or pencil when drawing the image.
6. Remove the master block and press it face down onto a clean card stock piece of paper. You may be able to get more than one print with the same amount of ink. You can keep practicing until you get the desired look of your print.
7. After the ink dries, write your calavera beside, above or below your print.
8. Display the prints for the entire school to see and enjoy.

Special Notes:
1. If students want to write words or names on their print, keep in mind that the prints will give them a mirror image of the master block, make sure to tell them to write the words and letters in mirror image on the master block (rubber or foam) so that when they copy onto the paper, they read correctly.
2. If time does not permit to work on a print, have students work on drawings to accompany their Calavera.
3. If you do not have any of the materials available in your classroom, coordinate the activity with the art teacher.
Assessment: Have students write extended responses based on some of the following questions.
1. Why do you think Jose Guadalupe Posada Calaveras were so popular?

2. Can you think of a similar popular tradition here in the United States? Is Mexico’s view of death unique? Why or why not?
Social Science/History Connection: Instruct students to make a calavera print of the historical figure they studied, researched or wrote about.
Fine Arts Connections:
1. Introduce students to printmaking techniques, the role of the Taller de Grafica Popular and the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada. They can create calavera prints on linoleum, wood, or safety cut blocks, focusing on contemporary issues and figures.
2. Create a contemporary class ofrenda in the style of a class mural, collage or quilt. Each student can create a larger class piece by putting them all together.
3. Once students have a good understanding of Day of the Dead in Mexico; they can explore other artistic and cultural traditions of honoring the dead such as the Ghost Festival in China, Spirits of the Dead Festival in Cambodia, or Tarpana in India.


macintosh hd:users:alicia:desktop:calavera prints.tiff

Catrin and Catrina Figures

Materials: white model magic (2 1-oz. packets per figurine), cardboard cones, tissue paper, and color markers, feathers

Duration: 1 class period

Grades: K-6

The Catrina or Fancy Lady is the character of a famous print by Jose Guadalupe Posada. She is a smiling skeleton dressed in a fancy hat. She has become recognized as a symbol of Day of the Dead because of her funny smile and hat. The Catrin is her fancy male counterpart. In this activity, students will create a small sculpture of a Catrin or Catrina.

Guiding questions:

Who is Jose Guadalupe Posada?

Who and what is La Catrina?

What is the meaning behind La Catrina?

Resources: Posada’s Popular Mexican Prints by Dover
Vocabulary: Jose Guadalupe Posada, Catrin, Catrina, printmaking/grabado

  1. You’ll first start by creating the body of your figurine. Take your cone and cover it in tissue paper. The tissue paper should be in the main color of your Catrina/Catrin’s outfit.

  2. If you are making a Catrina, take some more tissue paper and create pleats that will be glued on the lower half of the figurine to resemble a skirt. Have students trim the bottom to the length of the cone. Ask students to add ribbon, sequins and other embellishments to their dress.

  3. For the Catrin, cover the upper half with tissue paper. Choose a color of your choice for his shirt. Use another color of tissue paper for his “suit” and envelope the figurine so that it creates a “V-neck” opening at the top of the cone. Use markers to create a collar and buttons. Use the picture below as a reference. Students can also used other materials to personalize the suit.

  4. To form the head, you’ll need about a 1 oz. packet and a half of model magic. Ask students to use the model magic from one packet to form a ball.

  5. To form a skull, ask the students to pinch one end of the ball to resemble the jaw of the skull. See the photograph for reference.

  6. Add glue around the tip of your cone. You will want to add enough to cover the top from the tip to about a half-inch down. The glue will help to fix the head onto the body.

  7. The other half-ounce of model magic that you reserved will be used to connect the head to the body. Create a neck on the base of the skull and press it over the tip of the cone and over the glued areas. Tell students to use their fingertips to carefully press the neck into the cone to make sure the head is secured.

  8. Use black marker to create the skull eyes, nose and mouth. Draw an example for students to follow on the board. Students can use different colored markers to add more designs on the face and create more of a sugar skull design.

  9. To make the Catrina hat, use the remaining model magic. Have the students make it into a pancake shape. Students can create scalloped edges to make their hats look fancier. Students will then drape the model magic onto the skull head. They can use their fingertips to make sure its secured onto the skull. Have students then add color to their hats with paint or colored markers. Students can also further embellish their hat with feathers, flowers or other materials.

  10. To make the Catrin hat, have students take their remaining model magic and divide it into two sections. Have students roll out a pancake with one half for the brim. Students can then bend the brim into a hat shape of their choice. The second piece of model magic can be attached to the brim to create the upper portion of the hat. Once the hat is formed, have students carefully fix it onto their figurine. Students can then use marker and other materials to color and embellish their hat.

  11. TIP: It is useful for teachers to create their own examples so they can model the process for their students. Take time to try the activity first before introducing it to your students.

José Guadalupe Posada

The Fancy Lady / La Calaca Catrina

(from the portfolio entitled “1880-1980: 100 Years of Popular Art in the Morelos Labradores 91 Neighborhood”) , 1983

relief etching restrike from vintage plate, N.N.

National Museum of Mexican Art Permanent Collection, 1990.45 E

Raúl López-Reyes

The Fancy Lady / La Catrina, 2001

papier-mâché and mixed media

National Museum of Mexican Art Permanent Collection, 2002.23

Gift of Rosa and Henry Wangeman

Elena Climent

Altar for the Dead in Red Cupboard, 2002.

oil on linen

National Museum of Mexican Art Permanent Collection, 2013.44

Purchase made possible by William Kunkler, Ray, JoAnn, Doug, Jennifer, Dylan and Jeff Mota and the patrons of the National Museum of Mexican Art 2013 Gala de Arte

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