Honoring Life with 'Boxes of Death'

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Coffins from last year's 'Boxes of Death,' from Brain Sanchez, Corey Urlacher and Scott Fuller (L-R).

After my mother died, my sisters, my dad and I talked about finding the perfect urn for her ashes. Something reflective of her spirit. Something that would honor her adventurousness and natural class. A container that would artfully pay tribute to her extraordinary life.

Now in its fifth year, the traveling show Boxes of Death aims for that very idea. Founded by Seattle creative Patrick De Armas, the exhibition provides 50 different artists with a small wooden coffin to paint, sculpt, design or display however they see fit. The results are alternatingly touching, ominous, uplifting, sad or humorous; what binds them together is they all tell a story.

In a world where generic coffins can be bought cheaply from Costco, De Armas’ concept is refreshing. He’s not alone, of course; at Funeria in Graton, for example, one can choose a finely crafted urn for loved ones’ ashes from an array of different artists. But Boxes of Death is different in its approach. Co-sponsored by Juxtapoz magazine, the roster of contributors includes graffiti artists, motorcycle builders, tattoo artists and printmakers. Some of the designs flatly upend the notion that remembrance should be about comforting images of flowers and sunsets, like last year’s Icee-inspired design from Scott Fuller, above, with the declaration: “Ice Cold.”

If nothing else, Boxes of Death provides inspiration for those like myself who’ve delayed finding the right container for loved ones. My mother’s ashes still sit on top of our piano in the cheap plastic box provided by the funeral home, but after seeing the creative depictions in De Armas’ traveling exhibit, I imagine that fact will finally be remedied.

Boxes of Death visits just four cities, and is in San Francisco for one night only, Wednesday, Oct. 8, at the Gauntlet Gallery.