Dick George’s Descanse en Paz: Homemade Grave Markers in the American Southwest closes Aug. 23

By Tom Di Camillo, Director of Media & Community Events

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - Central Arizona College will host a closing reception for Dick George's exhibit Descanse en Paz: Homemade Grave Markers in the Southwest on Tue., Aug. 23, from 6-8 p.m. in the Visual Arts Gallery on the Signal Peak Campus.

There is no charge to attend the event which is open to the public. The menu for the complimentary reception will be an evening of Southwest Delights created by Central Arizona College's culinary art students. The menu will include:

• Chorizo and Pepper Quesadillas
• Sonoran Pasta Salad
• Southwest Wrap
• Grilled Bananas, Ice Cream and Mexican Chocolate Sauce
• Lemon Anise Cookies (Bizcochitos)
• Lemonade

George, who will be present for the closing, has displayed his work in the gallery since May 23.

CAC's Visual Arts Gallery is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday. It is located in the Student Services Building (Building M, Clock Tower) on the Signal Peak Campus at 8470 N. Overfield Road between the cities of Coolidge and Casa Grande.

Descanse en Paz (Rest in Peace) is a celebration of creativity, according to George.

"In this case, it is a hard-earned creativity, one that arises from the ashes of death and grief," he explained. "For millennia, people worldwide have marked the burial sites of family, friends and community members. At the most basic level, they do so in order to assure finding that precise location in the future. At deeper levels, however, they select or construct markers as symbols - of the person who died, of those who survived, of their relationship, and maybe even more."

In rural areas of the American Southwest, many cultures continue to make, rather than purchase, grave markers for the deceased.

"When they do, the results are often all the more expressive for having been made at home, by hand, and with materials that may once have figured in the life of the dead," George explained. "Sometimes rural people build such markers out of poverty, but that is not the only reason. More important, it is part of a rich tradition - largely but not exclusively Hispanic - that goes back about 150 years."

According to George, those creating the grave markers do so by welding and carving, and by painting crosses and plaques.

"They use everyday materials - cement, rocks, bricks, two-by-fours, even horseshoes and tractor parts," George said. "They bring the dead person's prized possessions - photographs and T-shirts, dolls and baseball caps, fishing tackles and rosaries. They leave food and drink - cookies and candy, water, beer, and wine. They decorate with valentines and Easter eggs, flags and carved pumpkins, Christmas trees and ornaments. They use crosses, hearts, sports logos, dollar signs - and private symbols the rest of us cannot decipher."

According to George, the creators of these markers invest the time and effort of their lives, and they sometimes achieve the real thing - an art of the home and hand and heart.

"This is art born of the need to get through the day, the week, the years afterward," he said. "This is an art of devotion rather than the art of display. This may be the grief of poverty - rarely is it the poverty of grief."

Descanse en Paz explores the homemade grave marker as a folk art. It invites viewers to witness a disappearing tradition, to see what remains of it, to see what it implies - and perhaps to see who we were, how we have changed, and how we arrived at where we are.

"Time, termites, and vandals are perennial enemies of rural cemeteries," George said. "But even more worrisome is the current population explosion that threatens to consume the remaining quiet places throughout the Southwest. Like much in rural life, traditional cemeteries and handmade grave markers will likely be gone within a generation or two."

George's goal is to record and represent these delicate achievements of the hand and spirit. The photographs in his exhibit were taken in New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado and west Texas.

Central Arizona College - District Office 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128 Phone: 800-237-9814