As springtime returns to the Bluegrass, Latino congregations have celebrated Semana Santa, or Holy Week, leading up to Easter. For the past five years, Latinos at the Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville have created brightly colored temporary carpets, or alfombras, to prepare the Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday. These ephemeral carpets are made of dyed sawdust and incorporate intricate religious symbols within their designs.
Jose Neil Donis helped to introduce this folk art form to the Church. “A friend of mine came up with the idea, and I said ‘Yes, we should do this.’ The priest here was open to it, but the local people had a strange reaction at first. The majority of them liked it, after they saw how nice it looked. Some of them even asked to help make the next one.”
Having moved from Guatemala to Shelbyville ten years ago, Jose felt an urge to reconnect with the community expressions with which he grew up. “I felt more welcome when we started this. I felt recognized, like my culture was being recognized.”
Like all traditions, alfombras represent a dynamic art form that changes over time and space. Jose lists some changes he has seen: “The main difference is we used to make it outside. We can’t do that here because we can’t block the streets, so it’s inside. Another difference is we keep it on display for longer because people want to see it. Also, we have to teach people to do it here, but in Guatemala, everyone already knows.”
Some of the Latinos who have made Shelbyville home recall making alfombras in their countries of origin. Those who did not practice it before have embraced it as an expression of ethnic identity within their new environment.
Through a Kentucky Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant, Jose teaches other members of the Latino community, mostly teenagers, the alfombras process. He shares traditional techniques, newer innovations, and the entire process from early stages, including meanings of the art.
“The main meaning is to sanctify the Way of the Cross. It’s so much fun, staying up late with friends. It’s also hard work. You have to stay on your knees for hours. People do this as an offering, or as penitence. Sometimes while they do this they pray, so it’s a very spiritual tradition.”
Visitors are welcome to visit the chapel at the Church of the Annunciation, 105 Main Street, Shelbyville and see this year’s alfombra which will be on display through Friday April 1, 2005.
- ### -
The Kentucky Arts Council is a state agency in the Commerce Cabinet. Working in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council invests in programs that develop vibrant communities, provide lifelong education in the arts and support arts participation. Every $1 in grant funds awarded by the Kentucky Arts Council helps grantees secure $15 in earned income and matching funds from individuals, philanthropic sources and other levels of government.