The Denver Post

Re­flect­ing on Grief

Boul­der team weaves a cas­ket for mixed- me­dia ex­hibit aimed at help­ing the com­munity cope

- By Ross Tay­lor

The ef­fects of the pan­demic have been dev­as­tat­ing. Col­lec­tively, the suf­fer­ing on a global scale is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure. At times, the grief can feel over­whelm­ing. For many, it’s hard to know how, or where, to process such emo­tions.

Off a side street in down­town Boul­der at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute, a pair of artists are work­ing to ad­dress that is­sue.

Moon­beam Marie Garde­bring, a cas­ket weaver from Long­mont, and Boul­der’s El­lie Dou­glass, an in­ter­faith hospice chap­lain, be­gan a quest over the sum­mer: to hand weave a cas­ket out of wil­low and cre­ate a mixed- me­dia art in­stal­la­tion in which it, and other pieces, can help peo­ple process their grief.

“So many of us are deal­ing with in­tense grief, change and loss,” Garde­bring said. “There’s some­thing about wit­ness­ing each other in that space and shar­ing it that feels sup­port­ive and heal­ing.”

Dou­glass agrees. She works with the dy­ing and their fam­i­lies on a daily ba­sis, and has wit­nessed the

im­pact that the pan­demic has taken, and how it’s stripped so many of con­nec­tion. Tra­di­tions like fu­ner­als or memo­ri­als may no longer be hap­pen­ing.

So Dou­glass won­dered, “What if we were to weave a cas­ket and ded­i­cate it to peo­ple who are dy­ing and sick dur­ing this time, and to the fam­i­lies who are griev­ing who can­not hold cer­e­mony?”

With this in mind, the two be­gan weav­ing the cas­ket out of wil­low in mid- July. It took three weeks and about 100 hours to com­plete. In all, more than 58 pounds of wil­low com­prise the cas­ket and ex­hibit at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute, called “In­ter­wo­ven: A Rest­ing Place for Col­lec­tive Grief.”

The Ar­bor In­sti­tute, lo­cated on 13th Street, was founded by Boul­der res­i­dent and ar­chi­tect David Le­vitt in 2019. Not long af­ter its pro­gram­ming be­gan, the pan­demic struck. It forced them to re­think how best to con­nect with the com­munity.

“We re­ally strug­gled in COVID time with what do we do that’s rel­e­vant? How can we serve unity?” Le­vitt said. “This be­came the first an­swer to that ques­tion.”

Sam Ran­dall, who leads pro­grams and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, de­scribes the in­sti­tute as a cre­ative non­profit com­bin­ing art and ecol­ogy with con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice.

“We had a sense that so many of us are go­ing through grief right now and in dif­fer­ent ways,” Ran­dall said. “It’s cer­tainly part of our mis­sion to help peo­ple be with that and feel sup­ported with a sense of com­munity around what we’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.”

It’s a col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence guided by Garde­bring, who lives with a rare, life- threat­en­ing au­toim­mune con­di­tion called We­gener’s gran­u­lo­mato­sis polyangi­itis. Her air­way is con­stricted to the size of a straw. As a re­sult, she’s un­able to wear a mask due to the lack of air­flow. It would be too dif­fi­cult for her to breathe.

This makes her more vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing the pan­demic, and she has largely re­mained iso­lated, ex­cept for this ex­hibit. Ad­di­tion­ally, Garde­bring’s health has de­te­ri­o­rated to the point where she has be­gun to weave her own cas­ket, in prepa­ra­tion for her death.

Dou­glass has also worked on Garde­bring’s cas­ket, and the

ex­pe­ri­ence has brought them closer.

“It’s been re­ally joy­ful,” said Garde­bring. “There’s an un­der­stand­ing be­tween us.”

The ex­hibit re­cently opened to par­tic­i­pants, who could write their feel­ings about the pan­demic on pa­per. Us­ing origami, they’re in­vited to re­shape the mes­sage and un­bur­den their grief us­ing the cas­ket. Lo­cated in the cen­ter of the gallery, it’s a beau­ti­ful and somber re­minder of the col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ear­lier this month, the in­sti

tute also part­nered with artists from the BIPOC com­munity for an even­ing per­for­mance that was part of the ex­hi­bi­tion. ( Gwen­da­lynn Roe­bke, a stu­dent at CU Boul­der and co- founder of BIPOC Boul­der Creatives, cu­rated the event.)

Dur­ing the per­for­mance, the artists shared their ex­pres­sions of grief and heal­ing through po­etry, mu­sic, di­a­logue and dance that cen­tered around the cas­ket. Ul­ti­mately, it will be buried as a sym­bolic, fi­nal re­lease of the com­munity’s grief.

Re­cently, Boul­der res­i­dents Har­leen Singh and Sushia Rahimizade­h vis­ited the space. The two lin­gered around the cas­ket, star­ing at the folded pieces of pa­per in­side. With masks wrapped around their faces, the two bent down to get a closer look.

“It made us re­flect on other peo­ple’s pro­cess­ing of grief, we couldn’t help but dive into so many ex­pres­sions of it,” Rahimizade­h said.

“It made me feel less alone in this,” Singh added. “It’s nice to have that in a com­munity.”

Dou­glass agreed. “I think the ex­pe­ri­ence in the space is feel­ing that vis­ceral level of our in­ter­con­nec­tion and our shared sor­row.” She spoke also to the broader com­munity, adding, “I would want peo­ple to know that they’re not alone in their grief. That we’re deeply in­ter­con­nected, and that art, and rit­ual, can re­mind us of that.”

 ?? Pho­tos by Ross Tay­lor, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post ?? Moon­beam Marie Garde­bring, left, and El­lie Dou­glass take a break while work­ing on the cas­ket as part of the “In­ter­wo­ven” project at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute in Boul­der on July 27.
Pho­tos by Ross Tay­lor, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post Moon­beam Marie Garde­bring, left, and El­lie Dou­glass take a break while work­ing on the cas­ket as part of the “In­ter­wo­ven” project at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute in Boul­der on July 27.
 ??  ?? Con­stance Har­ris, Gwen­da­lynn Roe­bke and Leila Browne par­tic­i­pate in a per­for­mance as part of the “In­ter­wo­ven” ex­hibit on Sept. 19.
Con­stance Har­ris, Gwen­da­lynn Roe­bke and Leila Browne par­tic­i­pate in a per­for­mance as part of the “In­ter­wo­ven” ex­hibit on Sept. 19.
 ?? Pho­tos by Ross Tay­lor, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post ?? Dana Ro­manoff, left, and her son, Rio, 5, look over the cas­ket at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute on Sept. 19. Weaver El­lie Dou­glass kneels next to the cas­ket, right.
Pho­tos by Ross Tay­lor, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post Dana Ro­manoff, left, and her son, Rio, 5, look over the cas­ket at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute on Sept. 19. Weaver El­lie Dou­glass kneels next to the cas­ket, right.
 ??  ?? Cre­ators El­lie Dou­glass, left, and Moon­beam Marie Garde­bring ( who can’t wear a mask due to a med­i­cal con­di­tion).
Cre­ators El­lie Dou­glass, left, and Moon­beam Marie Garde­bring ( who can’t wear a mask due to a med­i­cal con­di­tion).
 ??  ?? Notes like this were placed in the cas­ket in the cen­ter of the “In­ter­wo­ven” ex­hibit at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute.
Notes like this were placed in the cas­ket in the cen­ter of the “In­ter­wo­ven” ex­hibit at the Ar­bor In­sti­tute.

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