Artists invite discussion of ‘Hereafter’ by focusing on grief, life
“Willow Casket” by Daniel Brockett. (Photo courtesy of Contemporary Craft)
Contemporary Craft. “Willow Casket” by Daniel Brockett

Artists invite discussion of ‘Hereafter’ by focusing on grief, life

Visiting a Lawrenceville exhibition prompts memories of individuals absent

Main image by Contemporary Craft. “Willow Casket” by Daniel Brockett

This story contains a reference to suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, the national suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at

A Lawrenceville exhibition is showcasing the work of 13 artists grappling with grief, mourning and the celebration of life.

Hereafter,” which runs through Aug. 24 at Contemporary Craft, “is a platform for dialogue and understanding,” Contemporary Craft Associate Director Yu-San Cheng said.

Through sculptures, jewelry and prints, the exhibition taps various media to reach people of different ages, backgrounds and communities, Cheng added.

“There are access points for everyone,” Contemporary Craft Director of Marketing Mandy Wilson said.

Attendees enjoy the opening of ‘Hereafter.’ (Photo by Reagan West-Whitman)

None of the works contain distinctly Jewish iconography, however, several pieces feel resonant, Nancy Zionts told the Chronicle.

Zionts, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s chief operating officer and chief program officer, toured the exhibition after its opening.

“I am not a person who spends a lot of time in museums — it’s not my way of connecting — and yet I walked in there and there were a few of the pieces that I just looked at and said, ‘Yeah, it just automatically captured an emotion or feeling, a memory or thought, because of the way the artists had displayed that universal theme,’” she said.

One piece, “Willow Casket,” uses willow, hemp and cotton rope to create an 84-inch-by-27-inch-by-17-inch chest for the dead.

The work, by Leechburg artist Daniel Brockett, evokes thoughts of green burials, Cheng said.

Though not pine, there’s a similarity between the piece and traditional Jewish coffins, as both types of caskets enable the deceased and its surroundings to disintegrate over time.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, miniature recreations of blanket forts depict Washington, D.C. artist Tom Kieran Doyle’s efforts to “create a world” where he could shelter and preserve the memory of his brother John, who died by suicide in 2015.

Like several artists in the exhibition, Doyle recorded an audio guide for his work.

“In creating these sculptures, every miniature piece of furniture, every pillow and scrap of fabric, was placed there to protect, to care for and to open up a moment of nostalgia,” he said. “Each component that I added to the work was there to build up and prepare a magical place for the memories of John to lie softly.”

“Blanket Forts” by Thomas K Doyle. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

“Hereafter” is supported by several sponsors, including the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc.

“This exhibition touches every aspect of our lives,” Sharon Ryave Brody, Ralph Schugar Chapel’s president, said.

Brody, a licensed funeral director with nearly 30 years of experience, is joining Zionts at Contemporary Craft on July 18 to discuss, “Grief and Loss From a Jewish Perspective.”

The talk is “just one more way that I can encourage our whole community to not be afraid,” Brody said.

“We live in a medicalized society and pay a lot of attention to disease and illness and death,” Zionts said. “Grief is one of those areas that is tremendously  overlooked.”

Judaism’s approach to death is fascinating, she said.

“When you go to a shiva house, it’s not about only sadness,” Zionts said. “It’s about the opportunity to talk about the person who was lost. That piece of memory, and that respect for a life well lived, is a really important part of the grieving process.”

Through its customary observances, Judaism eases mourners along, Zionts said.

“From shiva, through yahrzeit, through yizkor we have a timetable built in to address grief.”

The exhibition doesn’t specifically address those rites, but the ideas are present.

“There’s definitely a component of sadness, and there’s a component of loss, but there’s also a component of memory, and legacy and celebration,” Zionts said.

These pieces demonstrate the intricate ways artists have fortified remembrances of loved ones.

“Hereafter” addresses grief but “it’s not all about sadness,” she said. “It’s about using grief in all of its forms to keep memories alive, to keep stories alive.” PJC

“Hereafter” runs through Aug. 24 at Contemporary Craft at 5645 Butler St. in Lawrenceville.

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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