Artist memorializes pandemic victims with tens of thousands of paper cranes

The Memorial Crane Project will be at Seattle Center through the month of April.

Artist Karla Funderburk began folding paper cranes as a way to cope with the stress and grief of the Pandemic 11 months ago.

She said she remembers watching the nightly news on television and folding a crane for each life lost from COVID-19.

Funderburk said she continued to fold paper cranes for each soul lost and she often felt a “wave of sorrow,” as she thought about all the people who died alone in a hospital without their friends, family or loved ones.

By May 14, 2020, the pandemic had caused over 88,000 American deaths.

“In that moment it seemed outrageous,” Funderburk said. “To lose that many lives at that rate,”.

She said she stopped folding the cranes to calculate how long it would take her to fold that many paper cranes. She said it would have taken her 24 years to fold that many, so she asked for help.

She shared word of her effort to fold a paper crane for every soul lost from the pandemic across social media.

People from all over the country sent her not only paper cranes, but stories of the ones they had lost.

Funderburk said sometimes a package would arrive with one paper crane and sometimes a package would show up with a thousand at once.

She says her Memorial Crane Project now includes over 100,000 paper cranes, each one symbolizing a life cut too short.

Now, the Memorial Crane Project has become more than just an astronomical amount of water fowl shaped paper.

Funderburk has strung together the cranes and now tours the installation at galleries across the country. Additionally, her website includes a showcase of numerous spoken stories about the lives of various COVID-19 victims, written by their loved ones.

Funderburk said hanging the strands of paper cranes in new spaces and cities now feels therapeutic and of some comfort to her.

“You feel the souls flying together in the space, despite the fact that they may have felt alone in their final moments,” she said.

Funderburk said the project as a whole, which includes the names and stories of the many people who have passed, allows for people to mourn and grieve collectively.

The Memorial Crane Project will be featured by the A/NT Gallery in Seattle Center until April 25th, when it will be moved into Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall for window viewing.