Mexican folk art might seem an unusually narrow niche this far north of the border, but longtime collector Anne Damon did her research before opening Zinnia Folk Arts in south Minneapolis earlier this year.
Damon was drawn to the colors and traditions of artisan-made goods in Mexico. “I always wanted to have a folk arts store,” says the former nurse, who saw her opening when the one other resource in town closed after 16 years. In 2008, Damon started traveling to small villages in Mexico four times a year and doing pop-up sales around the Twin Cities. Soon after, she began selling some favorite pieces online. Eventually she rented space at Guild, a design collective in St. Louis Park, where she stayed until the perfect storefront became available across the street from Patina at the bustling intersection of 50th and Bryant.
“Because I did it slowly, I could tell there was a lot of interest,” Damon says.
Zinnia’s clientele is as colorful as its merchandise: The store is drawing goth kids who are fascinated by skeletons, Latinos thrilled to finally have a local resource for religious artifacts, and spillover from Patina—shoppers attracted by the chevron vases and vibrant textiles in the windows.
One surprise has been the demand for Day of the Dead merchandise. As early as July, Damon amped up her selection of skulls and skeletons—not for Halloween but for the other holiday that happens right after, on Nov. 1 and 2.
Interest in Day of the Dead has been growing nationally, along with the Latino population, and the Twin Cities is no exception. Damon will conduct an in-store seminar this month to address curiosity about Day of the Dead, which is a celebration of loved ones who have passed. “It’s nothing like Halloween,” Damon says. “It’s like a combination of Memorial Day and Thanksgiving Day, and it’s not at all scary.”
Hers are smiling skeletons—figurines made of clay, papier-mâché, and even sugar, dressed in tuxedos and gowns, playing instruments or riding bikes. They represent the dead doing something in the afterlife that they loved in this life. Says Damon, “I love exposing people to new things.” 826 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-824-4342, zinniafolkarts.com
Five Facts about Day of the Dead
It’s a spiritual holiday full of traditional foods and practices to express love for the departed.
It occurs annually on Nov. 1 and 2.
It’s a time to clean and decorate the gravesite and cemetery.
Skeleton folk art is not scary. Skeletons are smiling and doing the things the deceased liked to do.
Families construct an ofrenda or altar to remember the deceased. It typically includes photos, favorite foods, sugar skulls, marigolds, and tissue paper flags.