Hunter Levinsohn
“A Chronicle in Cranes, the Finale”
A reflection

“Fold a thousand paper cranes and the gods will fulfill your heart’s desire."

"A Chronicle in Cranes, the Finale" was supposed to happen on January 20th 2009, Inauguration Day. It snowed in Carrboro/Chapel Hill on that day and the Century Center closed. It was terribly disappointing. This was the day the installation, begun January 20th, 2005 and ending January 20th, 2009 was supposed to happen. The cranes chronicled four years of frustration and disbelief that the Bush administration would have a second term. Even as I watched with joy and pride in my country as we inaugurated Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States I was bitterly disappointed that I could not close out the past four years with the installation of my cranes. As the day ended, I finally said to myself "Hunter, get over it." I did not say "Things happen for a reason." The next morning I drove to the Century Center to schedule a new date.

On Sunday, March 22, 2009, friends and I came together and took the cranes that I made and we turned them into a piece of art. Some of these friends are from long ago and some are friends I made on Sunday because they just happened to walk into the Century Hall. We range in age from 3 years 10 months to 65 and perhaps older. And I say "We took my cranes and made a piece of art." because it became, not one person’s work, but a collaborative installation. Anke helped me lay out the labyrinth pattern. Hollie, Debbie and Ilana started putting the cranes in chronological order and then we all started blowing them up. Jackie came in. Hally arrived from Washington, DC. Sherry came in a little later. Lewis and John happened by and stayed to puff life into folded cranes and take them by the handfuls to Anke or to me. Beatrice came in and got to work; we discovered that my mathematical calculations were way off (what a surprise!) and it was a group decision to place the cranes two by two. Soon everyone was arranging the cranes to form the labyrinth. I had intended for the cranes to go in chronological order from the beginning date to the end date but it became clear that we didn’t have the time to do it that way. I started arranging the other parts of the exhibit; putting paper for making Origami cranes and instructions on each table, setting up the entry way with information, a guest book and copies of photos that Sharon had from their family’s 2008 campaign experiences. I also placed two vases on the table filled with the cranes that I have made since January 20th to honor and remember those who have died since that date. The Bush administration has ended but the chaos and mayhem it created has not.

At 5 o’clock three years of cranes had been used to create the labyrinth which we had time and space to make and the boxes in which they are stored in my studio lined the stage in the Century Hall. People began to come in to see the cranes, walk the labyrinth and make Origami cranes of their own with the help of some friends who had learned or relearned how to make them for the occasion. There was a steady stream of people from 5 until 8 pm. Janet, Izzi and Kathy came in to see the exhibit. They had planned to come late and to stay and help de-install the cranes. The last half an hour was slower; we took giddy photos of ourselves trying to fly through the labyrinth which usually resulted in some sort of undignified collapse before the shutter snapped. And then at 8:30 on the dot we began to take the installation down. It took less than an hour. My car was all packed, the room was bare. I said many thank yous; we shared hugs all around and said our good nights.

On Monday after Hally left to return to Washington I began writing down my thoughts about the four years of making the cranes and the day of creating the installation. I owe many thanks to people who were here on the 22nd and helped create the labyrinth, to people who helped me and sparked ideas in the years and days prior to the installation, to my husband and family whose love and support are omnipresent; and also I owe thanks to those who do not share my beliefs because they, too, make me think about what I am doing and why I do it.

The character trait that always stood out for me about the Bush Administration and made their actions the hardest to accept was the total inability to understand, accept or empathize with anyone whose way of life or opinion differed from their own. Professor Robert Thurman said in a New York Times magazine interview with Deborah Solomon (6.29.08) "…when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how he was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast." I’ve tried but I simply cannot bring up that loving image in the context of the uncaring and self-centered environment that the Bush presidency fostered and fed on.

Looking at the labyrinth my friend Kay suggested that the paired cranes created a river of peace cupped between their outstretched wings. From 5 to 8:30 so many people used the words "peace” and “memorial" when referring to the labyrinth of cranes that I have begun to believe that what I started as a way to find hope through a very dark time for our country and the world has become a peace memorial. The cranes honor the service people who can be named and the paths honor countless, unnamed thousands who have died in these terrible times. My heartfelt thanks go out to my collaborators and to all who honored us with their presence on Sunday. The change in date made the piece about now and where we go from this time and not about the past. It still chronicles but it speaks to hope and peace. What the making of the cranes and creating of the labyrinth have been is a lesson in and a meditation on remembering while forgetting (Deuteronomy 25:19).

Thank you to everyone who helped and please forgive me if I have omitted anyone!

Jay Levinsohn, Anke Gassen, Hollie Taylor Novak, Ilana Saraf, Debbie Meyer, Beckett Fox Meyer Brantley, Jackie Helvey, Hally Childs, Sherry Graham, John Grey, Lewis Coffey, Beatrice Schall, Susi Lieff, Janet McLamb, Isabel Chicquor, Kathy Ketterman, Hal Sandick, Margaret Sachs, Carol Haynes, Day Higgs, Sharon Vanhorn, Bryant Holsenbeck, Andy Fisher and the people at the Carrboro Century Center, and the Crane Guardians (Kathy Armacost, 9.9.7; Sharon Halperin, 1.21.7, 4.11.7, 7.7.7, 11.6 &15.7; Carol Haynes, 7.5.5, 8.4.7; Elaine Marcus, 11.29.7; Beatrice Schall, 3.27.7)

Hunter C. Levinsohn
April 2009
Photos by Jackie Helvey, UniqueOrn Enterprises

  • Bush-inspired origami cranes take flight as era ends - News & Observer
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