Grave Goods

Funeral Urns
A special subtext to Grave Goods

The original concept for this exhibit was a more modest one, sparked by conversations with my artist friends Brenda Roy, Diane Edwards, and David Robertson:

'Slate Container' by Brenda Roy
Diane Edwards at work on Boxes
'Forged Vessel' by David Robertson

A long while back, Brenda had mentioned a repeating competition held out of the USA for contemporary designs for funeral urns. The story goes that a major funeral company in California was having a difficult time getting attractive containers for the ashes of those cremated. As the 'Hippy' generation gets older, more and more people are wanting cremation for their remains. Along with this is an increasing number of North Americans who have embraced other religious paths than main line Christian. To remedy this, a competition was started, with prizes given for outstanding work. On top of this, the sponsoring company would also purchase a good number of the top works for the use of their own clients.

Very interesting, I thought. Latter I had one of those late night conversations with David, concerning work, life, the universe (everything). Both of us were floundering a wee bit and running out of ideas and inspiration. I mentioned those other two conversations, and we started thinking about using forged steel as a material for 'containers'.
Hmmm... Now it turned out that Diane (who works in marquetry) had actually created some specific containers for ashes in the past. She was able to pass on some information about sizes and other requirements. At the time we also discussed an idea for organizing a group artisan show - specifically of funeral urns rendered in any number of mediums.

I then got side tracked into pulling together a different concept exhibit - Out of the Fiery Furnace. That group exhibit showcased the work of artists who 'directly manipulate their materials while those are incandescent'. David, it turned out, had not only remembered those late night ramblings, he had acted on them. One of his contributions to Furnace was 'Forged Vessel', his first crack at creating a urn using blacksmithing techniques.

Grave Goods came about as an expansion of that original concept of an exhibit of contemporary artists creating funeral urns. That particular class of object remains as a kind of hidden subtext to the larger exhibit.
It may be a wee bit crass, but the truth is we all need to sell some of our work to survive (!) As the current generation of 'post war babies' ages and dies, there is an increasing demand for not only cremation - but also less traditional containers for those ashes. Put together this looks like an excellent opportunity for we artisans to exercise our creative abilities. These objects by their very nature require the best quality workmanship, inspired designs - and for once the cost of the object is not a serious limitation. On top of all that, these objects are sure to be treasured and preserved into the future, perhaps the best reward for the artist of all. According the to information on the Cremation Association of North America web site, in Canada over 45 % of all burials involve cremation.
To that end I am suggesting to contributing artisans consider making at least one of their submitted pieces a container that might be used to hold ashes. This obviously will apply most easily to those people working in the 'hard' media.

A few technical details:

the Cremation Association of North America
This web site certainly worth a look, there are a number of fact filled articles available in PDF download format.

Earthen Vessel

"... a general rule of thumb when choosing an appropriate size of urn is to match the weight of the individual at the time of death with the cubic inch capacity. For example a 175 pound individual would require a vessel of 175 cubic inches or larger. "
Earthen Vessel is a gallery store run by John Reid in Calgary. It specializes in funeral urns - original art objects by Canadian artists.

Information from Diane Edwards

"...from a funeral service company (actually from Waterloo, Ont) was for the standard cardboard box, containing a plastic bag with a variable size of burnt offerings inside. I think the box size was determined by the largest size necessary. The size I was given was 9" wide, 4 3/4" high, and 5 1/2 " deep. "
Of course that standard box that Dianne refers to would be the 'take home container', the plastic bag inside would certainly fit into different proportions. Remember that often ashes are divided into smaller containers. This may be to share them amongst family members (a matched set of containers?) . Of course it may not prove necessary to hold all of the ashes - perhaps just part of the total (after the rest have been scattered at some significant location would be a good example).

" FUNERIA promotes and sells original, finely handcrafted urns, vessels, and personal memorial art made by artists, to those who seek art to honour a beautiful life. "
This is the company which holds the biannual design competition mentioned earlier. Worth a look to see what is available on the commercial end, at least in the USA.

One of the intentions of Grave Goods is to attract the attention of the Funeral Industry to the possibilities provided by the work of contemporary artists, be it funeral urns or standing memorials. We are hoping to acquire funding support from related area businesses. Tentative plans at this point are also to invite industry representatives to the Sponsors and Patron's Gala Preview on Friday Sept 5 (the evening before the exhibit opens to the general public).

Regardless of whether you might chose to submit an urn as part of your object collection for Grave Goods - I hope this information will get those creative juices flowing...