Our Lady of Holy Death. These words perhaps inspire direness, dread, or a sense of sinisterism, but this devotional title belongs to a female saint in Mexican folk Catholicism, one who can impart healing, protection, and safe transport into the afterlife upon the faithful. With her proper Spanish name being Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, or Santa Muerte for short, she is a religious personification of death, her traditional appearance similar to that of the grim reaper, though sometimes depictions borrow aspects from Mexico’s dapper skeleton-lady La Calavera Catrina. And using this latter aesthetic, a beautified and feminine rendition of death donned in flowers and finery, the recent Santa Muerte Dunny is a secular, sculptural interpretation designed by artist Stephanie Buscema.

A Brief History of Stephanie Buscema

While her grandfather, comic book legend John Buscema, was a pioneer of anatomical realism upon the Herculean superhero’s body, Brooklyn-based painter, illustrator, and designer Stephanie Buscema emerged within a wave of artists who reclaimed a vintage Carl Barks-ian simplicity for the medium. Shortly after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in the early 2000s, Buscema applied her illustrative specialty to picture books, comics, and other client-based projects, an adorable sense of classic Halloween-like darkness typically pervading her wholesomely cute works. But “having a tight monthly work schedule didn’t really allow me to explore [the] more creative options out there,” Buscema admits, a realization that led to rethinking her artistic career path.

“It wasn’t until about two years ago [that] I made the decision to step back and really focus my energies into creating art I wanted to make,” Buscema explains, a shift that included “participating in more gallery shows and focusing on my own work.” Manifesting — in part — with the announcement of her Kitschy Witch Designs atelier in 2017, “I entertained the idea of jumping into art toys around that time,” Buscema states, further acknowledging how she’d discovered the medium through “comic conventions and the Kidrobot store in SoHo” approximately a dozen years ago. “While I had always collected toys, seeing artists I love translate their work into actual art toys was something totally new to me [at the time],” she continues, and when she was recently ready to create her own, “I’m so grateful the opportunity was there for me.”

Stephanie Buscema’s Santa Muerte Dunny

Partnering with Kidrobot on the sculpturally-rich Santa Muerte rendition, Buscema explains that “the design was created specifically for the Spiritus Dea [Dunny] series,” but that “after the sketches were handed in, I was asked to draw up a larger, more detailed 8-inch [tall] version” in addition to “the smaller version” slated for the currently forthcoming mini-series. An accomplished blending of complexity and simplicity, the cartoonishly expressive eyes of Buscema’s design gaining prominence by their proximity to the elaborate rose details, which are a perfect example of how “there was a lot of thought, love, and respect for Santa Muerte put into every aspect of this project,” as Buscema notes. With roses being “an important offering and ritual item” associated with the folk saint, according to the artist, they emerge not only as a tiara-like trio above the sculpture’s brow but also adorn the piece’s symbolic scythe accoutrement and are etched into the Dunny form’s rabbit-like ears.

Regarding a piece infused with vast amounts of textural and visual allurements, it becomes noteworthy that Buscema proclaims that the “papercraft candle is one of my favorite details!” A proposed addition by the Kidrobot team, these harken back to the do-it-yourself, disposable Halloween decorations of yore, especially with the glow-in-the-dark flame housed at the topmost point. Made to coordinate with the three robe color-based editions of the form, these candles include “a brief description of [the] color meanings behind each,” Buscema reveals. “Traditionally, Santa Muerte statues are seen with a handful of different robe/tunic colors,” the artist explains, each of which “represents a particular energy.” Selecting three of the more common robe colors to adorn her sculptural editions, Buscema’s Santa Muerte is being issued in: the 400-piece Black rendition, which signifies the saint’s protective nature; the 200-piece Red variation, a love-centric Kidrobot.com exclusive; and the 100-piece Green version, which will be available at an undisclosed point in the future.
Beyond the practical applications of the papercraft candle element, it also serves as a tribute to Buscema’s discovery of the folk saint. “My very first exposure to Santa Muerte was her image on seven-day candles in a botánica many years ago,” the artist discloses, noting how there “was something really beautiful and comforting about her and it sparked a quest to learn more and ask questions about what she represented, her origins, history, and how to work with her.” Extending her passionate learning about Santa Muerte past the sculpture itself, the packaging — which Buscema made in collaboration with her husband, Rob Harrigan — is adorned with illustrations of “traditional offerings such as alcohol, perfume, fruit, candles, [and] tobacco,” the artist states, who adds that “our goal was to turn the box into a sort of altar space for her to live in,” making this thoroughly thought-out set a perfect manifestation of Buscema’s consuming desire to truly honor Santa Muerte.

Click Here to Acquire Stephanie Buscema’s Santa Muerte Dunny from Kidrobot, or Click Here to Find a Kidrobot Retailer to Order it from.

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