Altar for Dave Hernandez at the Palm Springs Art Museum

23 Oct

My grandfather, David Hernandez passed away this year in March. So, when I had an opportunity to make an altar for the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Dia de Los Muertos exhibition, I knew it would be for him.

Grandpa making the (back then) World's Longest Tamale in his custom-built steamer.


More after the click-through…

Artist’s Statement:

I made this altar in honor of my grandfather, David Hernandez.

A longtime resident of Indio, CA, he passed away this year in March. He was very active in his community and believed in supporting local causes. He taught us, his family, to take pride in our roots and in our city.

For many years, he and his wife, Bessie, had a Barber and Beauty Shop in the middle of bustling Old Town Indio. He was the kind of man who knew everybody!

My grandpa lived each day with gusto. Even after his first stroke, diabetes and a heart attack, he greeted each morning with the intent to get things done. Before his death, he’d purchased a large parcel of land in Coachella. He was attracted to it because on it stood the first Japanese church on the Coachella Valley. He appreciated its’ historical significance. One day, he was giving a tour of the place to his daughter, Christina. He went on and on, excitedly telling her all his plans for fixing up the place. She looked around and sighed, “But Dad, it’s so much to do!”

He stopped, turned to her and replied, “Tina, nothing is impossible.

He lived on his 5 acre citrus orchard in the middle of town. Over the years, different developers tried to buy the ranch. He was not tempted. “Over my dead body”, he said once. He may have traveled all around the world, but he knew where home was and no amount of money was worth losing that.

It is in honor of his spirit and love of life that we remember him here.

He was preceded in death by his younger son, Gregory Hernandez. Greg was only 18 when he passed away. He was beloved and missed always. We take comfort in knowing that they are reunited.

About Dave:

  • Father of Indio’s International Tamale Festival
  • Former Indio City Councilman, Mayor Pro-Tem
  • Former Indio Planning Commissioner
  • Originally proposed to the City the idea to paint the mural series in Old Town Indio
  • Spearheaded the City’s purchase of the Tyler property on Miles Ave- which became the Coachella Valley Historical Museum
  • He and his wife were Co-founders of the Fiesta del Valle, which raised money for Mexican-American scholarships for local youth
  • Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival board member
  • John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital board of directors
  • Dedicated member of Indio Downtown Merchants Association
  • In the early 60’s, he built his barber shop and his wife’s beauty shop on Towne Avene. He built their building himself. They retired in the mid-90’s.
  • Army veteran
  • Married to his wife, Bessie, for over 60 years
  • Father of 4, Grandfather of 5, Great-grandfather of 2
  • Attributed his positive energy to “eating a grapefruit a day”

Putting the Altar together:

I had less than a week to put the altar together. It started with a visit to my Grandma at the ranch. She let me borrow some of her treasured photos. I promised to scan them and return them that afternoon.

Hubby met me there and we explored the orchard for inspiration. I knew the altar space was outdoors, so I wasn’t going to do any delicate papel picado pieces that might not hold up for a week. I had a vague idea of doing a dead version of the rancho. We collected buckets of mummified grapefruits and dead tree branches.

Then I saw it! An old window from their casita. It was leaning against the back of their garage. Sure, half of the panes were broken, the remaining glass was clouded and the bottom of the metal frame was rusted out. It was perfect. It was part of my childhood memories of their place. He may not have realized it, but Grandpa saved it for me.

As I removed the debris that was piled around it, Hubby tried his best to look optimistic. But when he saw that it was too heavy for me to lift, he gently pointed out that it was a dangerous heavy object with shards of glass falling from it and was I really going to put it in a public place? Yes, I told him. It is beautiful and I have a photo that I took of Grandpa on his tractor that I think it will look great behind the window. Kinda like he’s driving off into the sunset.

The next couple of days was filled with lots of prep work and late-night painting of shriveled citrus.

On the day of installation, Bella and I met my handsome brother, Esteban, at the museum. He makes everything better and he smiles all the time. We were very happy for his help.

Installation Day:

My mom is going to take by some more food this week.

My tio, Florencio ‘Jayar’ Flores made the amazing retablo (below). He can make anything. Whatever he makes, it is with all his heart and it shows. This is a scene of my Grandpa and his son, Greg, in the old Towne Barber Shop. If you look closely, you can even see the 5¢ Shoe Buffer machine!

I’ll post some work-in-progress images (of this piece) soon.

If you get a chance to go by the Palm Springs Art Museum- do it! The exhibit reception is free to the public.


One Response to “Altar for Dave Hernandez at the Palm Springs Art Museum”

  1. Ralph Ortiz September 28, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    YES i remember Dave we lived on the ranch just east of Pete’s

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