Coffin painter creates art for the afterlife
By Michaela RehleMon Dec 4, 9:46 AM ET
Coping with death is easier for the bereaved when you celebrate the beauty of life in a person's final resting place, according to a German painter who decorates coffins with flowers and other symbols of nature.
Alfred Opiolka, from Wertach in southern Germany, recently began adorning burial caskets with bright images of roses, marigolds and butterflies when he decided traditional coffins failed to fulfil all the emotional needs of parts of society.
"I see the painting almost as a kind of service to the community, even though I don't want to talk about it terms which sound too elevated," he said. "It makes me very happy that I can really move people by doing this work for them."
He hit upon the idea after being hired to paint a funeral home, a job which he said altered his perspective on death.
"I think the commission changed my life. I've thought about life and death differently since and have a new perspective," he said, noting that one of his greatest wishes was to be able to paint a church with the same natural motifs as his coffins.
Opiolka, who began painting the coffins about three months ago, has so far received just a handful of commissions.
But he said those alerted to his work (www.wandelmaler.de/) in recent media reports have responded very emotionally.
One tearful woman asked him to make a coffin with garden flowers for the day her 94-year-old mother passed away.
"She told me, 'The garden meant everything to my mother', and thought that the coffin was the best final farewell she could make to her mother when she departed," he said.
Opiolka said that although he knew brightly coloured coffins were used for burials, he was not aware of others who hand-painted the caskets in the way he does.
The 46-year-old, who was born in Poland but moved to Germany as a child, uses water-based paints for the coffins, which he makes from pinewood. They cost 1,500 euros ($1,986) and above.
Nevertheless, Opiolka said the coffin decoration was much more than just a means of making money, and stressed he was only interested in painting natural motifs which appeal to him.
"I was asked once what I'd do if someone wanted a Snickers coffin," he said. "I'm a tolerant person, and if it really matters to someone, they should get one. But others could do that. It's not something that would be right for me."