Seattle man finds life's calling dressing the dead

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by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on October 31, 2013 at 7:02 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 31 at 7:14 AM

In a house that more closely resembles a pagoda, Mark Mitchell finds enlightenment.
 
"I make clothes - that is what I was born to do. It truly is my calling," said Mitchell.
 
Mitchell subscribes to a personal ideal that even in death, there is light.

"To take that experience and transform it into something beautiful and light and transformative. You notice you don't see any black," he said.
 
What you do notice is all the white, in varying shades of purity. Mitchell has found his calling in the art of dressing for death - clothes not to die for, but to be buried in. Every detail is done by hand, including wooden, silk-covered buttons.

"If you flip one over you'll see it's many, many stitches to make that silk tight enough so it's tight as a drum,” said Mitchell.
 
Each piece takes hundreds of hours using only the finest fabrics.

"It's an act of love, really, for me. It's been very healing for me if you know my story," he said.
 
The 50-year-old's story was once one consumed with sadness.

“I've had a lot of death in my life and this project has been a way of letting go some of the burden of that death that I experienced,” said Mitchell.

It was a burden that also forced him to face his own mortality.

"I said to my friend at the time, this test is gonna come back positive," he said.
 
Mitchell was HIV positive.

"Yeah I remember that day, I remember it very well."
 
Fast-forward 20 years, when a friend invited him to create something that would turn his sadness into something else, something eternal.
 
"It's sort of my iconic vision of that person as their best self in the afterlife for eternity,” he said. “And isn't that what we want for all our loved ones? Whether we believe in some sort of deity or not?"
 
Seams hand sewn, cords handmade using materials that are 100 percent biodegradable - everything is designed to disintegrate over time. The devil is not in these details.

"That concept of putting that much labor and that much love into it and then knowing that everything like life itself is temporal and nothing lasts forever," said Mitchell.
 
What is forever is the impression it leaves. An exhibit of his burial ensembles just wrapped up. And Mitchell is about to begin his first commission. Prices vary but Mitchell says clients can expect a custom burial ensemble to cost at least $10,000.
 
One man's life's work realized through death, whose clients are eternally grateful.

See more of Mark Mitchell's work on his website.
 

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