Meet Rufina Ruiz Lopez the creator behind the Garden’s Día de Muertos Mega Altar | Desert Botanical Garden


Garden visitors will experience a reimagined Día de Muertos on Oct. 29-30,, returning from its two-year hiatus. The Mexican holiday reunites the living with the dead through family-built altars called ofrendas, colorfully painted skulls, marigolds and traditional delicacies like pan de muerto shared among family members and friends.  This year’s festival was curated by Ulrike Figueroa, a Mexican arts and culture consultant. Ulrike has worked with two museums the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and MoMA in New York. This year, she will curate the Día de Muertos event for the Garden.

One of the newest aspects of the event is a mega altar that will encompass the entire space of Webster Auditorium. This cathartic experience will be captured at the large Community Altar designed by the Mexican artisan group Taller Ruiz Lopez, led by Rufina Ruiz Lopez. The altar will be decorated with 200 hand-made mud ceramic skulls crafted by Rufina and her family, as well as 600 feet of papel picado, or cut tissue-paper designs, 6,000 hand-made paper marigolds, a colorful sandpainting designed by artist Hilario Ruiz Lopez and more than 100 handmade ceramic altar elements. Rufina also helped design the entryway arch filled with more than 4,000 handmade paper flowers. The altar will be on display for Garden visitors through Nov. 6.

Rufina was recently featured in Vogue and has educational training of more than a decade at the Center for the Arts of San Agustin. Rufina, 53, is from a small town near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. She is one of the youngest of 11 siblings and a fifth-generation potter. From a young age, her mother taught the family how to create ceramics from mud — a skill that’s been passed down to generations in the family business. “Working with mud is a valuable craft and makes me appreciate mother nature and value the bond of family,” she says. That family bond can be found in each piece of art the workshop creates and the skulls that will be a part of the Garden’s altar. “Interwoven with each design is love, respect and kindness,” Rufina says.

Visitors can also join performers in La Procesión daily from 5-6 p.m. to  remember and pay respect to the lives of those who are no longer with us. Tickets must be purchased in advance at