Mexican Art Captures Children’s Imagination : La Habra museum’s festival of traditional Latino handiwork features about 500 colorful, crafty, cultured creations by local youths

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone but there’s still plenty of Mexico in the air--and on the walls--at the Children’s Museum. A Children’s Art Festival, continuing through June 2, features nearly 500 works by local schoolchildren, all of it based on traditional Mexican arts and crafts.

Hundreds of other youngsters have attended the show in La Habra since it opened in April and have come away with a new appreciation of Mexican culture. Among them, from as far as Cleveland, were 4-year-old Stephanie Rosenkranz and her 7-year-old sister, Carly. “They make great stuff,” Carly said. “In pretty colors.”

“We have a large Hispanic population in our schools,” said Melissa Banning, the museum’s assistant director who coordinated the show (which includes work by students from the Washington and Imperial middle schools and the Las Positas, Las Lomas, Sierra Vista, Walnut, El Cerrito and Ladera Palma elementary schools).

“Taking part in this kind of exhibit gives them a showcase for the tremendous pride they have in their heritage.


“Plus,” she added, “the non-Hispanic artists and viewers are given a valuable exposure to Mexico’s colorful history as it is reflected in the visual arts.”

Preparing for the exhibit, students learned some history of Mexican handicrafts, using a study guide that the museum supplied. Step-by-step instruction was included for such popular items as pinata s, maracas and woven ojo de Dios (“eye of God”) wall hangings.

Fifth graders at the Sierra Vista School offered their own take on Mexican bark painting, substituting crumpled brown paper for the traditional amatl paper made from fig tree bark, and using fluorescent paints to depict fantastic birds, flowers and woodland creatures. Ladera Palma first graders used a similar technique, also with charming results.

The bark paintings were a favorite of Daniel Boughter, 6, who visited the museum from Fullerton, examined the works and dubbed them “really neat.”

“They have so much art in them,” Daniel said. “It’s really different from our stuff.”

Third graders at Las Positas school had a bright idea for making maracas: They covered light bulbs with papier-mache, then decorated them with brilliantly colored designs. A quick rap on the table to shatter the bulbs and--bingo!--gourd-shaped maracas filled with rattling bits of glass.

Seventh graders at the Washington school created brightly colored versions of the ojo de Dios , said to have been originated by the Hulchol Indians of Jalisco and Mayarit, and still believed to bring happiness and good luck to the homes they adorn.

Papier-mache masks modeled after those used in Mexican festivals were created by Sierra Vista fourth graders.

Painted in vivid patterns, they range from comic to demonic: Rosio Perales and Sergio Bucio came up with devilish characters while Lourdez Juarez opted for a more lighthearted approach, framing a whimsical hot pink face with a pair of rose-colored glasses.

Also on view at the museum are eight papier-mache and clay masks by Alfredo Calderon, an artist from Quiroga in the Mexican state of Michoacan, who conducted a mask-making workshop at the museum last month. The works on display include a “Spaniard” mask similar to those used in Lentan festivals in Michoacan, and a “King” mask used in children’s celebrations in Guanajuato. Calderon’s masks have been featured in a number of Southern California dance and theatrical productions. Visitors can create their own masks at informal workshops held daily.

The Children’s Arts Festival continues through June 2 at the Children’s Museum at La Habra, 301 S. Euclid St., La Habra. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Admission: $1.50 for children under 16, $2 for adults. Group tours available. Information: (213) 905-9793.