Artist Statement

5 years ago, I lost someone very special who chose to be buried. When we went casket shopping, everything looked like it was made for dead people. So I went to Home Depot and bought plywood, some handles and screws and built her a fantastic casket. I collaged 100s of photos of the best days of her life to the inside. Finished the outside with sand and seashells she collected on her travels. I sewed bedding to exactly resemble her patio lounge chair with fabric remnants I found in her closet. I set up shop in her garage and crafted while she slept. I placed a little speaker dock inside the casket as I worked, infusing her iPod favorites into the wood.

When I began her casket, the rest of the family stayed clear. Not interested in engaging her death until the time seemed more appropriate for them. But slowly, my cousins and her friends started keeping me company. Some had creative curiosities, some were looking to creep away from a death bed or awkward small talk. They’d come in and cry as they approached the box. Eventually, they would touch the casket walls, clear their eyes, cool their heads and look inside. Their minds would flood with beautiful memories as they scanned the photo wallpaper. They’d smile and laugh and tell stories of our special lady. Then they would hang out and help me work on the casket and sing old Motown songs. Sometimes they would email me pictures from their phones that we could print out and include. They’d tell another story of our special lady that was uniquely theirs and proudly glue a photo proving their connection to her for eternity. It was really beautiful to witness. I had unexpectedly plugged into a long lineage of powerful ritual.

I realized that for 1000s of years, humans have been creating caskets as families, having a not so different experience as mine. I realized how we were missing out as a family by hiring undertakers to undertake our experiences for us. I began sharing my blueprints and casket designs with friends and their families and learning how to help others interested in similar experiences. I look forward to teaching you to share this experience in your family.

-Katrina Brees