A year or two after my husband was killed, I started folding origami cranes out of copies of his death certificate. I ended up with a thousand of them strung on long threads, and then made a series of B&W copier images of my hands in various stages of the folding. In the first image, you could read the certificate and then sequentially see it being folded. In the final image, my hands let the paper crane fly up off the image. Doing this gave me another sense of closure to help move on with my life in relative peace.
This turned into an installation piece that showed for over a decade in some great art venues around the West. The last showing was at an art center in the small historic gold mining town of Weaverville, California. My son, and a friend, Chloe Peart, came with me and we labored together putting it up as a part of my larger exhibition on impermanence. As I was hanging the last of the thousand cranes, I spontaneously started folding a few new cranes out of blank white paper to add to the tail end of the flock... and then was moved to fold a few more out of clear acrylic, cut the last one into two pieces, glued half inside the gallery window, and glued the other half onto the outside of the window. It had taken me over ten years, but they finally flew away - the toughest emotional work was done.
A few days later I was back in the gallery taking show photos and keeping quiet watching viewers react to the work. Two young cowboys came in with their wives. Both were in full Western dress - long duster Sunday-best coats, great boots, huge hats, and with their hands firmly stuck in their Levi pockets. They looked purposefully disinterested while their wives shopped in the adjacent gallery gift shop. As the two young men wondered into the room with a thousand paper cranes hanging from the ceiling, one immediately hunkered down and pretended to shoot at the paper birds as if duck hunting: “Bang! Bang! Bang!” he yelled softly. They snickered and sauntered around saying something like, "What the hell is this shit?" True, it was not the kind of art they were used to looking at.
Then one of them swaggered over to the image with the full sized death certificate and began reading. He motioned to his friend to come over and they read together. The certificate revealed how Donn Johnson had died putting out a forest fire while he was piloting an air tanker plane, and that he was only fifty years old. Their mood shifted. One said to the other, "Those tanker guys are somethin' else." They pulled their hands from their pockets and folded them in front of their bodies. They stood silently next to the cranes for a long time and then they slowly walked away to go tell their wives to come look.