Ashes to assets: New business has artistic way to memorialize loved ones
NEWPORT, Minn. -- Ron Javner wants to be cremated after he dies. That’s not so unusual.
But instead of having his ashes placed in an urn, he wants to be the urn.
He wants his cremains mixed with clay, which an artist would then shape and bake into a piece of glazed pottery. He’d rather be on the mantle than be scattered over, say, Lake Superior.
“I wanted to be all together so you would know where to find me,” he said, recalling a conversation he had with his wife, Carole.
His gut told him that the concept might appeal to others, so he founded Eternal Ware, arguably the first company that offers the chance to reincarnate grandad as a vessel or vase.
Based in Newport, Eternal Ware will arrange to have some or all of the deceased’s cremains integrated into a custom-made pottery heirloom such as a pot, jug, plate or pendant.
Skip the jokes about drinking your coffee out of Great Aunt Irma. These aren’t mugs and dinner plates. When a customer places an order with Eternal Ware, he or she is commissioning an original work of art, Carole said. Even two pieces with the same design are not going to be identical.
“Nothing can be exactly replicated by a potter,” she said. “It’s going to have its own personality, so to speak.”
The Javners contracted with seven ceramic artists, each with their own unique vision and style, to create commemorative pieces for Eternal Ware. Prices range from $250 to $2,500.
Want to preserve your pet’s ashes? Minneapolis-based artist Franny Hyde specializes in animal figurines. Some artists, such as Joe Christensen in Hudson, Wis., can create vessels as large as 6 feet high, suitable for display in an outdoor garden.
The Javners tested the process using the ashes of their dog, Bailey, a Wheaton terrier lately deceased. They worked with ceramic artist Jay Jensen, who runs a studio in River Falls, Wis., with his wife and fellow ceramic artist Wendy Olson. Both artists are accepting commissions from Eternal Ware on www.eternalware.net.
Jensen, who teaches ceramics and drawing at Inver Hills Community College, says it was difficult to find the right mix of ash and clay.
“He initially wanted to see if he could put all the remains into one pot,” Jensen said. “It’s not technically possible.”
Even as little as 20 percent ash had a destabilizing effect that liquified the clay.
“It’s certainly not an inert ingredient,” he said. “It’s what we call a flux. It tends to want to melt the clay at higher temperatures.”
They settled for smaller concentrations, he said. But other ceramic artists in the Eternal Ware gallery could be able to use more of the ash, depending on the size of the piece, their particular clay mixture and firing temperature.
”It’s not really one size fits all. It’s what works with each artist,” Jensen said.
He thinks the Eternal Ware brand could catch on with certain segments of the population.
“I certainly think that with pets in might be more successful. People are more willing to do something like that with the their pets than their husband or wife.”
Eternal Ware has no customers yet, but the Javners hope that will change as they meet with local funeral homes and professional associations, such as the Cremation Society of Minnesota.
“There are other people who have done it, but mainly on an individual basis.” Carole said. “We don’t know anybody who is doing it with a community of potters like we are.”
Ron, himself a pen and ink artist, said they selected potters whose work had a spiritual dimension. It was also important that working with human or pet cremains did not require them to alter or compromise their creative process.
When Carole’s mother died last year, the ashes were divided among her children. Carole delivered her share of her ashes to Alabama potter Larry Allen, who created a wheel-thrown jug incised with designs inspired by Native American culture.
As more Americans choose cremation over traditional burial, many companies have devised creative means of dispersal. One Florida-based company, Celestis, can even arrange for a portion of the deceased’s ashes to be shot into space.
Darlyne Erickson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Funeral Directors, said she knows of at least one company that converts cremains into jewelry. She hasn’t heard of Eternal Ware, but said the idea of commemorative pottery could appeal to aging baby boomers, who often put their own stamp on traditional milestones such as weddings and births.
“It’s very creative,” Erickson said of the Eternal Ware concept. “It might turn off a lot of people and some people will think it’s a great idea. We are all so individual, there’s no little niche we can put anybody in.”
Carole said it’s not for everybody, but there are benefits.
“It’s a sensitive topic for a lot of people,” she said. “Some people will probably not like the idea. This is a more eco-friendly option as well. It doesn’t take up any burial space. People who scatter ashes in the lake or the woods, you can’t really keep that with you.”
For details about Eternal Ware, call (855) 283-2350 or (651) 330-7788, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.