Henry Smith, 11, has carved a train and a car for the Festival of the Dead in the past.
This year, he opted to carve the front view of an airplane, and in light of the theme of the festival, he carved a couple bony characters in the cockpit.
"I decided I'd just put two skeleton dudes in there," Henry said.
He named the plane "Skeletair," and last weekend, the wooden panel was one of many pieces of art under creation at the Zootown Arts Community Center. The ZACC has taken on the Festival of the Dead as a program, and the celebration culminates Monday, Nov. 2, in a parade down Higgins Avenue.
The party starts at 2 p.m. in Caras Park with lantern making, face painting, food, beer and more. (See schedule and sponsors with this story.)
The preparation at the ZACC left wood shavings scattered across the floor of the art gallery, remnants of the creative forces on display to honor loved ones who passed into another realm. This month, people decorated sugar skulls, built shrines and carved wooden panels to make relief prints for the parade.
Henry's parents participate in the event because it's a family affair, one which even little Eleanor, 2, can join, if even in a backpack.
"We just really like the vibe," said Ian Smith, Henry's dad.
"The democratic nature of it," added Andi Hoelzel, his mom. "Anyone can join."
As people carved at a long table in the gallery, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" played from one iPhone, and Ian Smith played a couple notes of it on the piano in the room.
Sunday was printing day at the ZACC, and community members who had carved panels lined them up outside and awaited instructions from artist Patricia Thornton.
"The fun part comes when you start to ink 'em up," Thornton said.
The panels get placed in a sandwich of sorts, with paint rolled onto the panels, a cloth placed over the inked boards, a thick foam pad set on the cloth, and wooden planks laid over the top. Then, a big truck rolls over the sandwich one way, back another.
"My question is who is going to roll the ink on the boards?" asked Lavender Lambert, 11.
"We don't know yet, (but) you can roll your own," Thornton said.
"Yay!" Lavender said.
Lavender had carved a picture of her kitty, Isabella, and the cat and her curled tail jumped out of the print, clear and sharp. The fluffy Persian disappeared a few years ago, either killed or stolen.
ZACC executive director Kia Liszak estimates some 600 people in all participate in the series of festival events. The festival is Missoula's own version of the Latin El Dia de los Muertos, and it's an inclusive multicultural celebration that honors life and death through community involvement.
"I think that looking at other cultures to find healthy ways to approach the subject of death is something that is really important," Liszak said.
A couple artists, Bev Glueckert and Michael deMeng, started the festival in Missoula, and the community has shown it's become an important tradition here.
"We've received a lot of feedback, particularly with the shrines, people being really grateful that that outlet is provided and anyone can walk in and participate," Liszak said. "It's been really great, and we were really happy to take it on as a program of the ZACC this year. It made a lot of sense."