Do you know what a nicho is? In simplest terms a nicho is three dimensional or recessed display box. Follow along as we make DIY nicho boxes from up-cycled toilet paper rolls!
Time for some history behind the nicho box….
Nicho frames or boxes are a Latin American adaptation of the Roman Catholic retablo- which are paintings of patron saints that were commonly done on wood or tin surfaces. Nichos are different than retablos in that they are smaller and generally made from less precious materials.
These small three dimensional type frames that honor or memorialize a person that has passed away can be seen in many Latin American cultures and can be called by other names depending on the location.
Nicho boxes are sometimes a part of the ofrendas of the traditional Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. The word ofrenda means offering in Spanish. They are also called altares or altars. These ofrendas are not meant as a way to worship the deceased, but as away to remember and honor the deceased.
The Day of the Dead celebrations vary greatly depending on the area and not all Latin American countries even celebrate the Day of the Dead.
See this post for lots of kid friendly resources about the Dia de los Muertos and also a free printable resource to help your kiddos record what they learned!
DIY up-cycled nicho frames…
Traditional nicho boxes were made from fairly humble materials. Any small box could be made into a nicho. Cardboard cigar boxes, lightweight wood, and tin were common materials.
Our DIY nicho boxes are going to have even more humble beginnings- cardboard tubes. Grab a few empty toilet paper or paper towel trolls- they’re going to form the three dimensional portion of your box!
Gently fold your cardboard tube in half without creasing it. Use sharp scissors to cut a shape out of the cardboard. You’ll be cutting through two layers so your the cut out shape will be nice and symmetrical!
Open the cardboard tube back up and fold in half the opposite direction. Crease it this time- this one is for keeps. This will leave your cut shape as the frame opening on the front half of the tube. Leave plenty of space above and below the frame cutout so the nicho remains strong and can stand on it’s own.
Encourage kids to cut shapes out of the top of their nicho box as well!
Paint your DIY nicho….
The first step is to add a base of color to your brown nicho frame. Nichos are traditionally bright and bold, using lots of contrasting colors.
Start by covering your nicho in a bright color, or two! Choose paint that will be opaque enough to really cover the brown of the cardboard. This acrylic paint is my favorite. It’s inexpensive and the colors are amazing. (Acrylic is known to stain clothing though so you’ve got to know your kids!) Paint front and back and then set aside to dry!
Decorate your DIY nicho….
Now for the fun part! Tradional nichos are not about restraint or subtlety. They were heavily ornamented, bright, and bold! This brand of decorating speaks to most kids.
After that layer of bright paint set your kiddos free to decorate the exterior of their nicho with anything they can imagine…or find!
We used a combination of black Sharpie and chalk markers to add details but the sky is the limit. Imagine adding sequins, chain, beads, or stones. This could be a great time to send kids on a treasure hunt for tiny found objects that could become a part of their nicho frame. Adding things that have special meaning to them would be another way of adding to the meaning of their nicho box.
What goes inside of nicho box….
Inside of a traditional nicho box there is a key object or figure who is meant to be honored or memorialized by the nicho. Many nicho boxes hold images from religious and popular Latin American culture. The Virgin Mary, saints, Latin American folk heroes, and figures from the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration are commonly featured inside nichos.
In the examples shown in this post we used sugar skull images popular in the Dia de los Muertos celebration but nichos could definitely contain something more personal to your kiddo!
Grab printable sugar skulls sized just for these upcycled nicho frames….
I’ve made a page of printable sugar skulls that are just the right size for these upcycled nicho frames. Print, color, and use a dot of glue to fix your image inside the frame!
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Other Latin American folk art ideas…
The colors and designs within the folk art of Latin America are just striking and beautiful. It’s easy to be inspired by them!
If you enjoyed learning about and making these nicho boxes I know you’ll love the collection of many Day of the Dead resources and printables perfect for kids!
These five free printable sugar skull masks are another fun way to learn about the Mexican folk art!