Aimee Miller has been the genius behind many of Cargo’s displays since its inception. Over the past five years, Aimee has had the pleasure and the challenge of building Cargo’s Day of the Dead altar each year. She sets the bar higher each year, building larger and more elaborate altar. Here are a few words of wisdom Cargo’s in-house expert altar builder.
KM: What are the basics for altar building?
AM: Some kind of natural material like flowers or branches. Whatever structure you want to use as the armature, whether it be a table, a little stand or a box, depending on how big your altar will be. It could be as small as a shoebox even.
KM: What is important about the natural element?
AM: Having something live on the altar is a good juxtaposition to the inanimate objects on the altar. It brings a sense of organic life to it.
KM: How can you make an altar on a budget?
AM: Use what you have at home. You can make all kinds of paper decorations like garlands and flowers. I love to tea stain doilies to make them look aged, and you can do that with other paper too. Cargo has a lot of inexpensive paper items too. Most people have candles as well. Use lots of things that you already have at home, like fruit to give it color.
KM: There are so many things to choose from at Cargo for the Day of the Dead altar. How do you choose?
AM: It happens organically. Usually we choose where it’s good to go and build a structure for it that will fit in that space. Then I look around for the big pieces that will be key to the altar and really stand out and make a statement and put those in. Every year, we have different things to use, so we see what fits into the space and structure we’ve built. This year, we have Justin from Bloke, our florist, who provided some amazing plant material, giant sunflowers and marigolds. They were really large, so they were some of the first things that went into the altar. So I start with the big things, then I can place the smaller items.
KM: What are the themes of this year’s altar?
AM: There are very muted colors this year, and I think Justin’s addition of cornstalks informed that early on, as well as the santos that went onto altar first thing. We happen to have a lot of gold ribbon right now, so there are a lot of gold ribbon touches.
KM: What is the favorite altar/shrine you’ve built?
AM: Last year’s Day of the Dead altar. It was big and sparkly and had old world feeling to it. This one does too to some extent.
KM: Any other suggestions for altar builders out there?
AM: Have in mind someone you love and just be inspired by that. The things that you need for the altar will come to you through that. Friends, and family, people that inspire us that have passed on.