An origami exhibit remembering Iowans who have died of COVID-19 is now on display on the Loras College campus through All Saints Day. Folding Cranes/Enfolding Community is an intricate, three-dimensional exhibit featuring nearly 9,000 paper cranes, each folded by artist Pam Douglas of Clive, Iowa and reflecting the number of lives lost to COVID in Iowa. The memorial has grown from an original display of 1,500 cranes. Many of the cranes have hand-written names of Iowans who have died of COVID.
The exhibit incorporates a variety of colorful folded papers, with each handmade crane honoring the memory of an Iowan who died from the disease. When possible, the cranes include the handwritten name of Iowans lost to the virus. Artist Pam Douglas began folding cranes when much of the state was in lockdown, starting in early 2020. She continues to fold cranes as loving works of art as part of the Iowa COVID memorial. She says, “This project continues to expand, there are still many Iowans who will benefit from the hope and healing with their communities’ commemorative events surrounding this display. In fact, worldwide people are learning to heal from the loss of 6.445 million loved ones to COVID.:
Douglas wanted to convey that these Iowa deaths were not just a statistic—they were people who loved and were loved. Douglas chose the crane for her artwork because the bird, with its broad wingspan, carries significant symbolism in many cultures. Douglas will continue to fold cranes and add them to the memorial for additional COVID deaths among Iowans.
“I felt a profound call to address this collective loss — both tangible and emotional — through creativity, choosing to make origami cranes, inspired by an earlier sculpture I incorporated into All Saints Day and All Souls Day at our church,” Douglas said. “I wanted to convey that these Iowa deaths were not just a statistic — they were people who loved and were loved.”
Douglas pulled inspiration from the fallout of the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima in 1945, when a tradition of folding them was started to help in the healing process.
The exhibit has been displayed in various locations across the state since its creation in September 2020, including Sacred Heart Catholic Church in West Des Moines, Reiman Gardens in Ames and Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny. The memorial opened to the public in the Miller Academic Resource Center at Loras beginning Thursday, Sept. 1. As Douglas explains on her website, “The pandemic, as an unfortunate universal experience, is among the greatest global health challenges of our time. Many of the victims have died without their families at their side because of the risk of contracting the illness. The thought of a loved one dying alone creates an added dimension to the grief.”