Lynda Jasper-Vogel

In creating the calaveras in the form of jester sticks, artist-scuptor Lynda Jasper-Vogel has fused two ancient cultural traditions - Meso-American and medieval European. Ritualized remembrance of the dead, celebrated annually after the autumn harvest, is common to both.

In Europe, All Hallows' Eve marked the return of the spirits of the departed, who were greeted with all-night cemetery vigils that included bonfires, music, storytelling, and the sharing of favorite foods. With its growing influence, the Catholic church incorporated these ancient rituals into All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day. As part of the conquest and colonization of the New World, already blended Spanish traditions grafted themselves onto those of myriad, often overlapping pre-Columbian cultures.

Nowhere are the Days of the Dead marked more elaborately and with more fascinating syncretism than in Mexico, where the living of all age and stations are brought into intimate contact with their departed ancestors through reverent and time-consuming preparations, physical proximity and the sharing of sensory pleasures indulged by the living - flickering candlelight, golden marigolds, regional specialty foods, cakes and candles in the shape of skulls and skeletons, and comic-macabre toys for the children.

In social, political ad artistic importance, Mexico's calavera tradition transcends the ritual festivities associated with the Days of the Dead. From the late 19th century, thanks to prolific woodcut artist and commercial printer Jose Guadalupe Posada, the caladera provided an avenue for social critique and resistance to the status quo. Among a largely illiterate populace, skulls, and skeletal figures parodied the costume and comportment of society's elite - governors, priests, landowners, wealthy matrons - exposing their hypocrisy, corruption and greed to the underprivileged masses with every broadside that was plastered onto walls and buildings.

Jester sticks invoke a parallel tradition of speaking truth to power because they offered their bearers the opportunity of candid, even satirical address without fear of punishment by the reigning monarch. In its evolution from a soft appendage in the shape of a phallus to the image of the court jester himself, and its subsequent popularization as a flattering portrait of whomever chose to carry these psuedo-scepters in festivals and processions, the jester stick - like the calavera - displayed a marvelous facility for social fluidity because it was both generic and uniquely individual.

Over the past few decades, inhabitants of the American Southwest have adopted and adapted the pageantry of Mexico's Day of the Dead with growing enthusiasm, welcoming a more multi-faceted awareness of a topic that Anglo-American culture has tended to repress as taboo. this engaging new series by Lynda Jasper-Vogel brings a high level of imagination and artistry to this theme through her creation of unique singles and couples, each signed and named by the artist. in enlisting whimsy, gaiety, and humor as well as sumptuous adornment, her jester sticks share the universal wisdom that death is the ultimate leveler, inviting us to follow the path of our ancestors with heightened awareness, candor and relish.

Julianne Burton-Carvajal, August 2007