SACRAMENTO -- The Mexican piñata was the main attraction at last Saturday's third annual Piñata Festival at Southside Park.
The piñata has been celebrated in most Latin American countries for centuries, tracing its roots to China. Because it is an artistic piece that has remained enormously popular in the United States, a group of talented artists in the Sacramento area decided it was time to have a day to celebrate its existence and its importance.
"When people think of the piñata, they have images that come to mind of what it looks like. Traditionally, they are round and pointed, but for the piñata festival, we wanted to show that there are many more innovative creations, designs and ideas on making the piñata. Furthermore, we wanted to showcase piñata making as an art form and a form of expression," said Mari Arreola, the creative director behind the festival.
The piñata stepped out of its shell.
Corporate companies commissioned several local artists to create distinctive piñatas to represent their business. Many were not in the traditional form. A life-size Frida Khalo, for example, was one of the most popular piñatas at the festival. Khalo boasted large Mexican flowers tucked throughout her braided black hair, wore a colorful turquoise reboso over a unique floral print blouse.
Another piñata was a rectangular boom box with long pieces of frilly string attached loosely underneath it giving it the effect of an over-sized wind chime.
Still another was one of the many colorful lucha libre fighter masks designed to tell a story about its character. This one was bright pink with thick blue accents around the eyes and mouth, complete with a decorative star on its forehead.
Arreola, who owns and operates the midtown gallery Spanglish Arte, discovered the talent of several good friends and local artists who created non-traditional piñatas on their spare time or as part of their line of work nearly three years ago.
While in her shop one day, an artist came to her with several unique creations of the piñata such as a chicken and peacock. The beauty of the creations sparked an idea.
"I remember thinking it was the first time in my life that I saw the piñata differently. I was so used to seeing the traditional piñatas that I never stopped to think of all the different traditional and non-traditional ways a piñata can be created especially in the context of modern day art. I wanted the community to have the opportunity to explore some of the innovative ways to make a piñata," said Arreola.
That same year, she began what she describes as a "grassroots movement" among various local artists where each month, they came together and held workshops at both the SOL Collective -- a cultural arts nonprofit organization -- and at her gallery to teach the community how to make piñatas both in the traditional and non-traditional form.
The workshops drew families from as far south as San José.
"I quickly noticed that these workshops brought Latinos from the newer and older generations together as well as people from different ethnicities and backgrounds into the art of piñata making," said Arreola.
"It was teaching them to think outside of the box and to create something that reflects who they are and what they love. In the process, they were learning about one another and talked about their experiences. It was and continues to be a great artistic equalizer."
This year, approximately 50 custom-made piñatas were showcased at the festival, which also included entertainment, food, arts and crafts and Aztec dancing.
Children and their parents had the opportunity to make piñatas using the traditional materials: balloon, cardboard and papier-mâché. Others had the chance to decorate paper-bag piñatas in the simplest form. The entire event brought families together for a day of learning, culture and tradition.
Families also had the chance to learn how to make sugar skulls.
"What we created with this festival is more of a piñata gallery. We are not only showcasing the work from our local artists but that of people in our community that wants to create a piñata, traditional or non-traditional," said Maritza Davis, the events coordinator for the festival.
"In the United States today the piñata has become much commercialized. We see them in the form of popular cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob Square Pants and Angry Birds. But the most beautiful thing about this event is the way in which piñata making unites people, allows them to interact, share their personal stories and gives them the opportunity to participate in an event that is unique to northern California," added Davis.
Arreola hopes that newer generations of Latino children and their families don't lose the significance of the piñata and the role it plays in the culture. But most importantly, she hopes they don't lose sight of its artistic value.
Send e-mail to: