As the only child of working middle-class parents, Wayne Hilton grew up in Las Cruces with a nanny who seemed like a member of the family.
"During the holidays, we would always take her to Delicias (Chihuahua) to be with her family. And as a really young kid, I started taking trips to Mexico and fell in love with it," he said. "There are many aspects of Mexican culture that I love, and I just became fascinated with the Dia a de los Muertos and the catrina figures."
As a visual artist, he added, "I have always had this fascination of how cultural aspects of all cultures manifest aesthetically."
It is perhaps that connection to the Mexican culture that inspired Hilton to start working on a catrina figure about 2 1/2 years ago. It wasn't until he had completed his third figure that Hilton realized he was creating a collection.
"That was the turning point. It's a catrina holding the bird cage and almost her entire front is beaded. It took me almost three months to do. And it just made me realize that it was becoming something bigger than just making these figures," he said.
Hilton said he started studying Mexican artist and lithographer Jose Guadalupe Posada, who is credited with creating the catrina, an iconic skeletal figure.
"Each of the pieces are inspired by a respective work of Posada's," said Hilton, who ended up with 13 different catrinas, each measuring from 14 to 17 inches tall.
The first public preview of Hilton's "Hermosos Huesos" ("Beautiful Bones") is on display through Wednesday at the El Paso Museum of Art, in time for the Dia de los Muertos observance. The second preview of the collection will be in late November at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. The official national museum tour is scheduled to begin Nov. 2, 2014, at the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, Kansas.
Michael Tomor, director of the El Paso Museum of Art, said the exhibit includes an installation of posters celebrating Posada and an altar commemorating Posada and fellow artist Luis Jimenez. He described it as a wonderful opportunity for the museum to educate others.
"Museums have a unique responsibility to help educate the public about the culture and artistic traditions that surround us. It's really a wonderful opportunity to feature and celebrate (Dia de los Muertos) by providing an exhibit of an altar as well as works by Jose Guadalupe Posada," he said.
Tomor added that Hilton did a nice job of embracing the Hispanic culture through his work.
"Regardless of his background, he's certainly engaged ... it's an opportunity for an artist to tell a story visually and how he feels emotionally, and I think he certainly has done that," Tomor said.
When Hilton sees his collection, he sees the culmination of his life and career path.
"I feel like everything I've done in my life has led me to this point. I've used every skill set I have in this body of work," he said.
"My first 10 years I was a costume designer, and so I come from a hands-on textile, sewing background. I've always been an artist and have dabbled in different types of media."
His experience includes working with his parents at an antiques store and running his own costume business. In the 2000s, he worked primarily in interior design and then in large-event planning.
Each catrina is fascinating, with intricate details and handcrafted materials. Each one was fashioned from recycled materials such as wood, metals, fabric scraps and beads.
"They are sculptures, but there's sewing, and papier mache, wire and fabric manipulation, intricate beading. And there's techniques I don't have a name for -- like melting plastic with a blowtorch and using scraps of metal," he said.
Most Popular Stories
- Updates on Everglades' Stranded Pilot Whales
- NSA Tracks 5 Billion Cellphone Records a Day
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- Stolen Cobalt-60 Recovered in Mexico
- Ford Mustang Still Packs Power
- Wind Power and Wildlife Can Coexist
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- Sarmiento to Handle Greeley Latin Ops
- First-time Jobless Claims Drop Below 300,000
- White House Pushes to Extend Unemployment Benefits