Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Dia de los Muertos Nichos

One of the aspects of Day of the Dead that isn't talked about much is the nicho. Many people don't even include one on their ofrendas, but it is a practice that is growing in popularity. Read on to learn about the history of nichos and to find resources for making your own. And be sure to check out my post on Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead Lesson Plans and Activities.

This post contains affiliate links.

What is a nicho?

Nichos are a type of handmade shadowbox. This form of folk art finds its roots in the Roman Catholic retablos, which were brought to the New World by the Spanish. Retablos were stories in a box - usually of religious scenes or patron saints. They were beautifully painted and filled with hand-crafted figures.

Joaquin Lopez: Made by Joaquin Lopez Antay. Image © UBC Museum of Anthropology
(You can read more about retablos in this guest post on how to make a Peruvian retablo by author, Mariana Llanos.)

But here in the Americas, the indigenous people took the retablos and developed them into a different artform: the nicho. 

Nichos, in general, are display boxes, too. The subject can be anything: religious in nature, a mini shrine to famous people, or (as is the case in Día de los Muertos) a tribute to a loved one who has passed away.

Originally, they were crafted into ornately decorated tin-plate frames. But today, they may be made out of any kind of materials, but they do tend to have a few things in common: they are colorful, bold, and sometimes sparkly.

Día de los Muertos Nichos

For Day of the Dead, nichos usually have one of two themes:
  1. they display a traditional scene featuring calacas (skeletons) as the main figures, OR
  2. they are a display created in honor of the loved one who has died.
In the latter case, they will usually include a picture of the deceased and include elements that are closely related to that person, such as their hobbies, careers, passions, and/or talents. For example, the image below is of a nicho I made in honor of my abuelita, who loved singing, cooking, and gardening. She was also a devout Catholic. So I tried to include elements that represented all of her talents and passions.

For many, the act of creating a nicho to honor a person is a wonderful form of therapy to help them through the grieving process. Check out this excellent article from KQED: For Day of the Dead, Families Turn to Nicho Art to Ease Grief 



My favorite book for introducing children to this artform is Paquito y Abuelito. Unfortunately, it is hard to find, but there are a few available on Amazon (see aff link below) and you can read a review of it here.

Art Supplies for DIY Nichos

Here are some of the more common art supplies used by nicho artists (young and old!). 

Shoe boxes work great, but if you want something that will last longer and that you can display year after year, maybe these Standing Wood Nichos from BonesAndCobwebs on Etsy are more to your liking. They actually have many elaborate wooden nichos ready to be decorated that are for sale.

Of course, you need paints, like this Acrylic Paint Set with 24 Colors and 12 brushes.

I also really like these Acrylic Paint Markers and have this set at home.

This set of 25 miniature picture frames comes with gold frames, but they can easily be spray painted any color you want. 

 These Assorted Colors Mini Paper Flowers are great for decorating nichos. 

Miniature Calavera Papel Picado Banner - these are just adorable.

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