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Dias de los Muertos Memory Niche

Lesson Plan, Grades 5-12, Sax Lesson Plans, Art, Social Studies, Sargent Art


In this project students will study and combine the folk art elements of two Mexican traditions. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday honoring and celebrating the dead. Held in early November its roots date back over 3,000 years to the Aztec civilization. The holiday is a celebration of a loved one's life. A niche is an ornamental recess designed to hold a statue, picture or object. Tin or metal niches were originally created to honor a saint or holy person. They were framed in hand tooled tin and precious metals. Student will use the design elements and structures found in these two traditions to create a Memory Niche of their own.


  • Students will learn about Mexican folk and tin art found in the Day of the Dead celebration and niches through the creation of a memory niche honoring an artist, family member, friend or cultural icon.
  • Students will have the opportunity to express their creativity through two and three dimensional design.
  • Students will become aware of cultural differences and how they are expressed through art by studying the Day of the Dead celebration and Mexican niches.

Supplies Needed

Sargent Art® Liquid Metal™ Acrylics, Set of (6) 4 oz. jars 409187
Sargent Art® Liquid Metal™ Acrylics, Set of (6) 8 oz. jars 405594
Sargent Art® Fluorescent Tempera, Set of (6) 16 oz. Bottles 443426
Sargent Art® Liquid Metal™ Metallic Markers, Medium Point, Set of 6 410403
School Smart® News board, 9" x 12", Pack of 24 085564
Ten Seconds Studio Embossing Tools Texture Set 408359
Precut Decorator Foil, Gold, 38 Gauge, Pack of 12 578786
Corru-Gator™ Paper Crimper in Wave 408863
Elmer's® CraftBond® Tacky Glue, 8 oz. 1366811
Decorate Me! Art Activity Boxes, Pack of 12 088017
Decorate Me! Jewelry Boxes, Pack of 24 405817
Sargent Art® Sculpt-It™ - White, 2 lbs. 407132
Sax® True Flow® Acrylic Gesso, Quart 1384131
Royal Paint Brush Set408546
Amaco® Day Day of the Dead Molds 1402966


CONTENT Standard #1: Understanding and applying media, techniques and processes.
CONTENT Standard #3: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols and ideas.
CONTENT Standard #4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.



Discuss with students the Day of the Dead celebration and the role art plays in it. Review Day of the Dead folk art, Mexican tin art and the architectural design qualities of the niche with students.


Have students select an individual to honor. Students can choose an artist, family member, friend or cultural icon. Students will need to bring in photos or a portrait of the individual they choose. They will need to research the individual and collect items and quotes associated with the person. These items can be used for inspiration or placed in the niche.


Select a photo or portrait for the inside of the box. Study the image for elements that can be repeated i.e. in the case of Frida Kahlo I chose to repeat the leaves, flowers and birds found in her self- portraits. Keep in mind that all surfaces except the back and bottom of the box can be decorated. Using the individual chosen for the Memory Niche sketch out both the interior, exterior and cover niche design.


Gesso the Decorate Me box and chip board. The chip board will be used for the niche design and any internal and external embellishments.


Paint the gessoed box with Sargent Art® Liquid Metal™ Paint inside and out. Set aside.


Make paper or plastic template of all the elements to be used in the design. This will help with size and structural needs. Trace templates on gessoed boards. Cut out shapes. Cut any structurally braces that may be needed. Paint and allow to dry.


Assemble inside of box.


Create Day of the Dead sprigs by using Sargent Art® Sculp-It™ and the Amaco® Day of the Dead mold. Powder the molds with talc powder prior to inserting the Sculp-It™. Gently release the sprigs and allow to dry. Once dry they can be painted. Set aside.


Using the tooling foil cut a design to fit around the sprig i.e. for Frida Kahlo I chose to do a flower, an element found in her self- portraits. Cut out the desired shape and tool the edges with the Ten Second Embossing tools or emboss using a paper crimper on the tin. Glue to the sprig.


Using the gessoed board cut a frame for the cover niche. Paint with the Sargent Art® Liquid Metal™ and Fluorescent paints repeating the elements used inside the box.


Assemble the cover niche. First create the background with paint, paper or tin. Apply the Day of the Dead sprig and embossed tooling foil to the background. Glue the painted frame in place to create the niche. When constructing the cover niche you will have to consider if a counter weight is need for the back of the box to keep it balanced.


When assembly is completed, Sargent Art® Liquid Metal™ paint can be rubbed on using a soft cloth to give an aged appearance.


Place hanger on back of niche and display. Have students explain why they chose their honoree and discuss the significance of the design elements they featured. Also have students explain how they created their Memory Niche.