In Japanese culture, the crane symbolizes longevity and happiness. It’s said that if someone folds a thousand paper cranes within a year, they are rewarded with a wish. If someone folds the cranes for someone else, it’s either to wish them happiness for the next thousand years, or a gift to help heal sickness or grief.

When the pandemic first started, Los Angeles-based artist Karla Funderburk started creating the intricate paper birds, each one representing someone that had died from COVID-19, with those ideas in mind. The act allowed her to “process and contemplate the volume of the souls we were losing,” she says. 

As Funderburk folded the cranes alone in her Los Angeles studio and the death toll from COVID-19 kept rising, she realized creating one crane per person lost would take decades to complete by herself. So she opened the project to the public through social media, asking anyone to contribute a paper creation. Packages started arriving daily. 

After receiving the influx of material, Funderburk attached the cranes to copper wires to hang in her studio. The maze of paper consumed the space, offering a path for visitors to navigate, as well as ponder the people each one of the then 7,500 suspended cranes symbolized. A “Wall of Remembrance,” which included a long and sobering list of victims’ names provided a stark contrast to the fluidity of the multi-colored paper used to make the folded birds. 

Exposure from the exhibit led more people to contribute to Funderburk’s project. To date, she has gathered more than 80,000 cranes from nine countries and 45 states, along with 19,500 names and audio memorials to COVID-19 victims told by their family and friends. 

It also inspired her to try to display part of the collection, which she named the Memorial Crane Project, in all 50 states. It has since been featured at the San Fernando Valley Arts & Culture Center and the Seattle Center. Next week, it comes to the Museum of Boulder. 

The partnership was formed when Boulder artist Rick Dallago introduced Funderburk to The Museum of Boulder, which was already hosting an exhibit called Drawing Parallels that features artifacts from the year 2020. The synchronistic themes made it possible to display the two projects together. While the Memorial Crane Project honors those lost during the last year due to COVID-19, the museum also believes it will help the community deal with the losses of the 10 people killed in a mass shooting at an area King Soopers on March 22. 

The Museum of Boulder serves as the singular location for the memorial cranes in Colorado, which have been requested by museums in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. “We seek spaces where people can find the will to continue and not give up, and to support each other,” Funderburk says.

When Funderburk arrives on April 12, she’ll bring more than 10,000 paper cranes with her to install inside the museum. With the help of volunteers, she’ll string the cranes together and hang the strands throughout the Drawing Parallels exhibit. QR codes placed on the walls will connect people to the audio stories collected through the project. 

Until September, visitors to the museum, as well as any community members in Boulder or beyond, are encouraged to make a paper cranes to contribute to the next iteration of the exhibition in another state.

If you go: The Memorial Crane Project is on view April 15 through the end of September at The Museum of Boulder, which is open every day except Tuesday.