It doesn’t look like a normal mailbox, because it isn’t.
Candles grow from above, as if growing from within. Dried flowers surround each side. There is a silver plaque calling it a “sacred vessel”.
And this mailbox does not open. It has been hermetically sealed, except for a thin slit, to protect what’s inside.
Because it contains precious materials: letters to the dead.
That’s why it’s not a normal mailbox. It’s a “spirit box”.
That’s the name artist Jasmine Dillavou gave to her creation, which on its surface is an installation for the ongoing “Gratitude” exhibition at the Kreuser Gallery in downtown Colorado Springs.
It is also an invitation to reconsider our way of thinking about mourning. And to, perhaps, let go of a little grief.
Dillavou had to do it herself, following the death of her father in 2019.
It was no surprise how much she missed him. It was a surprise to see how she handled it. She started writing letters to her father. And about his father. When she was thinking about things she wanted to tell him – “I miss you” or “Man, I figured out how to change my oil” or “I hung out with some friends and made a funny joke about you ” – she spoke aloud as if speaking directly to him.
It helped me. But Dillavou kept the details of those coping mechanisms to herself.
“I was afraid to admit that I was writing to him,” she said. “I was so ashamed of it.”
She admitted it on the Internet. Type of. She would post the letters anonymously on Craigslist.
At least they slipped my mind, she thought. “At least I did some kind of action.”
It helped even more. To feel like she was sending the letters somewhere. Send the feelings somewhere.
“I was no longer ashamed,” she says. “I loved that I found this thing on my own.”
As Dillavou brainstormed ideas for the “Gratitude” exhibit, which she had previously participated in, she wondered how to turn that feeling into art. She wondered how to give others a space to send their own letters.
She invented “Spirit Box”.
“Our community has suffered so much loss over the past few years,” Dillavou wrote of the installation. “There has to be a place for it all. Our soft and kind hearts will never be able to carry it alone.
So let the “Spirit Box” take it all away. Set up outside in front of the Boulder Street gallery, the lodge is open to all passers-by.
A description recorded on the nearby window calls the box “simply a receptacle for love, loss, farewells, grief and gratitude”.
At a first Friday opening reception in early February, gallerist Abigail Kreuser noticed several attendees placing letters in the box.
“You can say it’s a release for people,” she said. “It’s a way to find peace with something beyond our control.”
Kreuser found peace herself by writing letters she would never send.
“I think it’s a good lesson for everyone,” she said. “Even if you can’t talk to that person because they’re no longer alive, or maybe they’re alive and you don’t have a relationship with them, writing something down helps you get out of it.”
For years, Kreuser organized a “Gratitude” exhibition. This year, Dillavou’s piece wasn’t the only one to explore the dark side of gratitude. An indoor installation called “Grief and Gratitude” invites participants to write notes on stones about “what you are grateful for or what you mourn”.
“There are some things you’re not comfortable saying out loud,” Kreuser said. “You need an outlet to face or deal with whatever it is without judgment.”
The “Spirit Box”, designed to stay in place for a month or more, offers that too.
When the box is full, Dillavou does not read the letters. She will pulp them into handmade paper. She hopes to use this paper with future spirit boxes, so that the “cycle continues”.
She has already applied for “Spirit Box” to join the local Art on the Streets program, which could hold the installation for years.
And would allow many others to write letters. And, what their letters say, to let it go.
“You can’t stop heartbreak,” she said. “But you can make room for it and make that space really beautiful.”