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After A Year Of Losses, Boulder Finds Healing, Hope In Paper Crane Project

In the Japanese tradition of senbazuru, it is said that if you fold 1,000 origami cranes, your wish will be granted. The idea found its way around the world with the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who inspired others with her endeavor to fold enough cranes to cure her cancer, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Since then, the paper crane has become an international symbol of healing, hope and peace. Last week, local artists came to the Museum of Boulder to help with a similar effort — the Memorial Crane Project.

“Whenever I drive around town I always think ‘I miss Boulder,’ because it just feels like Boulder isn’t really here anymore - but we’re all still here,” said Mariel Polifroni. The Boulder singer-songwriter and filmmaker volunteered to help with the exhibition’s installation. “So to be here with everyone today is a good reminder of that.”

She found out about the project through an ad asking for help from the local arts community.

“I jumped at the opportunity because I felt like it would really be a healing experience to participate in the installation,” Pollifroni said as she pulled wings from the cardboard backing used to transport the delicate paper cranes.

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Stacy Nick / KUNC
Volunteers help artist Karla Funderburk (center) hang 10 strands of cranes honoring those killed last month at a Boulder King Soopers store.

Los Angeles artist Karla Funderburk understands how Pollifroni feels. She began the crane project as a way to start her own healing process from the turmoil of the pandemic.

“It started very small,” Funderburk said. “I just started folding (by) myself, just to kind of process my own loss.”

Thinking of the pain and isolation people have been through this past year, she chose the crane as a symbol of hope and transition. Because while the paper cranes may be created alone, Funderburk says when they’re put together, they can unite us.

“The purpose is to recognize that what impacts you, impacts me,” she said. “Your loss is my loss.”

Funderburk, who is white, says she chose the origami crane in honor of its role in the process of memorializing someone, and also as a symbol of connectedness. The Memorial Crane Project has received support from organizations such as chapters of the Japan America Society and the Thousand Crane Club in Hiroshima.

“The purpose is to — like the origami crane and the ritual of folding together — is to create that unity and solidarity,” Funderburk said.

Eventually Funderburk plans to have exhibition sites in every state. So far, she has collected more than 120,000 cranes. Some made by her, others by people in the communities where the exhibition has appeared. They were sent to Boulder from 46 states and nine different countries, including Japan.

Approximately 10,000 of the cranes are on display in Boulder — including some very special ones.

Stacy Nick / KUNC
At the center of the exhibit are 10 strands of paper cranes in honor of those killed last month at a Boulder King Soopers store.

Hanging from the ceiling, the cranes form a spiral maze, leading the viewer to the center where there are 10 strands of 100-plus cranes each. At the end of each strand is a ribbon with a name: Eric Talley; Kevin Mahoney; Teri Leiker; Rikki Olds; Lynn Murray; Tralona Bartkowiak; Suzanne Fountain; Denny Stong; Jody Waters; and Neven Stanisic.

It’s a tribute to the victims of the mass shooting at a King Soopers store last month. The cranes actually weren’t a part of the original exhibition plan, says museum executive director Lori Preston.

“A group in south Boulder started folding paper cranes,” Preston said. “They had no idea what we were going to be doing in terms of the memorial cranes.”

Boulder couple Meridith and John Bacus and their daughter, Lita, came home from visiting the temporary memorial site that had formed around the store, and decided they needed to contribute. So they began making paper cranes for the victims. Soon neighbors were lending a hand, as well.

It was a similar instinct for Vanessa Martin. After the shooting, Martin, a botanical illustrator from Aurora, said she wanted to help the Boulder community that is grieving the same way her community grieved when a gunman entered a movie theater there almost nine years ago.

“I mean, just the pain and the tragedy,” Martin said. “So this was very near and dear to my heart because having gone through that with my community in Aurora, it’s just sad. It still makes me tear up, so this felt really good to come and help.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles amid gun violence, Boulder-based artist Joseph Jimenez says he focuses his art on healing from that trauma. But on this day, he just wanted to help out another artist.

“Just kind of, ‘Need help? All right, I’ll be there,’” Jimenez said.

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Stacy Nick / KUNC
Boulder artist and volunteer Joseph Jimenez prepares strands of cranes to be hung up as part of the Memorial Crane Project.

But looking at the thousands of paper cranes, he said this was also an opportunity for something he hasn’t yet been able to do this year: absorb all the loss of the last year.

“I don’t think I’ve really processed it too well, yet,” Jimenez said. “(It’s just been like) on the go, next foot forward and not thinking too much about what’s behind. I know there’s a lot of people who — I see it in their faces, I see the pain, the confusion, just trying to process it. I also see the faces of people who maybe don’t have the time and space to process it and so they’re just kind of raw.”

For the museum, the connections made at every stage of the project are an important part of the process, Preston said.

“It’s been a long year of — artists especially — not being able to be among people to be able to express themselves,” she said. “And so just making the call out to them to say, ‘Do you want to come and be a part of this installation?’ They jumped all over it.”

The Memorial Crane Project will be on display at the Museum of Boulder through Sept. 17, 2021.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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