‘Can’t wrap my heart around it’: Local artist folds gun-violence grief into origami boxes

Published: Nov. 12, 2022 at 10:57 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Gun violence concerns many, but statistics can be hard to picture.

Local artist Leslie Lee is making the problem visible by encouraging people to put together origami boxes in remembrance of their loved ones. She calls them “Soul Boxes.”

Madeleine Parish Hall at 3123 Northeast 24th Avenue is housing 7,500 Soul Boxes, just a fraction of the 200,000 boxes that were displayed at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and are now being spread around the nation to organizations willing to put them on display.

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Each box represents the story of someone harmed by gunfire.

“Every single one of these boxes resembles a man, woman or child who has been killed or injured by gunfire,” Lee said. “There’s just way too many of them.”

Darlene Maurer helped organize the display at Madeleine Parish Hall.

“The whole display brings to life the people that are behind the numbers that we hear every day,” Maurer said.

On each box “could be a message of love and hope,” Lee said. “Or it could be a message of anger and frustration.”

Lee said having an immersive display is meant to showcase that each incident of gun violence isn’t just another zero on the end of a long statistic, but instead an individual person with a family and friends.

“Statistics are not emotional,” Lee said. “People don’t understand statistics.”

One viewer of the display added, “having it so in your face brings forth a very visceral reaction of like, they’re all people, and they’re all ages, all genders. It’s everybody. It impacts everybody.”

Lee said she kickstarted the idea after a shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, where 60 people were killed and more than 400 injured.

However, Lee said mass shootings are just a fraction of gun violence, “but suicides are over half.”

She said the unfortunate reality is that chances are you know someone affected.

Like Anne Meixner, whose friend Chris committed suicide a little over a decade ago. Sadly, for Meixner, even more recently in October, she said her brother was gunned down while at work.

“I still can’t wrap my heart around it,” Meixner said. “And he has two sons. The eldest is my god son.”

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Lee said putting a Soul Box together was meditative.

“His family gets to build the soul box for him. Not me,” Meixner said. “But I’ll make one for my friend Chris.”

Lee calls the display ‘artivism,’ a blend of art and activism. As a local, she knows Oregon is no stranger to gun violence.

“The things we read about are only a small portion of what is happening in this state,” Lee said.

That’s why to some, the display doesn’t come as a surprise. “Unfortunately,” one viewer said, “I don’t think it’s shocking. I think that’s really sad.”

Anyone can view the display at Madeleine Parish Hall through November on Saturdays between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and on Sundays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.