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Artist makes dinnerware from the dead

Justin Crowe uses ashes to glaze ceramics.

Most people choose to scatter the ashes of a loved one in a place that once held a special meaning to the deceased. But in a morbid twist on tradition, some kookier individuals are having their nearest and dearest used as a glaze for dinnerware sets. Artist Justin Crowe, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, mixes human ashes into a glaze to coat everything from coffee cups and bowls to candlesticks. The quirky idea is the result of a one-off art project called Nourish, which saw Crowe use the ashes of 200 people to make an eight-person dinnerware set. His novel approach to death proved so popular that Crowe setup a company called Chronicle Cremation Design, offering the bereaved the chance to have, say, an uncle made into a mug. Crowe explains why he decided to turn the dead into dinnerware.

How did the idea to develop this art project come about?

Experiencing the passing of my grandfather at home had a profound impact on my outlook. Home is a place that is simultaneously average and sacred and this environment helped normalize the idea of death for me. The idea for the Nourish series came from my desire to recreate this experience of confronting mortality in an everyday surrounding. I thought that if this experience helped me accept mortality, that my artwork could help others do this as well.

Does it offer people a new perspective on death?

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Yes. The dinnerware provides a way for people to confront the idea of mortality and puts them in a position to share a cup of coffee with someone and have a conversation about a topic that is often uncomfortable. Abstracting a physical symbol of death into a functional coffee cup you use every day can normalize ideas that often cause fear or anxiety. The project was designed to be progressive, uplifting and inspiring.

How do you actually make these cups?

To create the Nourish ash glaze, we collected the bones and processed them into a fine powder. The powder is added to our specially developed glaze mixture made up of natural materials including clay, feldspar, silica, and the ashes. Together the materials are designed to melt into glass at 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. We then coat each ceramic piece with the ash glaze and fire them in a kiln. When finished, the porcelain dinnerware is functional and able to exist unchanged for thousands of years.

You’ve received many requests from people who want the cups…

I think all people have different reasons for owning and using the cups. Some people like to start each day remembering how incredible it is to be alive and others treat them more preciously and meditate on the idea of death. I drink out of a Nourish cup every day because it inspires me. To have such a powerful idea hidden in something so unassuming is beautiful — it makes me feel small and grateful.

How many cremated bodies are needed to make a cup?

A cremated body can weigh anywhere from 3 to 10 pounds. It only takes a small amount of ash to glaze a coffee cup. To make the Nourish glaze I collected a single bone from the body of 200 different people. This amount of material was enough to glaze an entire eight-person dinner set including plates, bowls, mugsand wine cups.

What’s next?

I launched a custom memorial object business called Chronicle Cremation Designs. Our personalized products offer a way for people to hold the memory of their loved ones in their daily lives. Instead of observing them through a picture or having a cremation urn on a shelf, our candle luminaries, cremation jewelry, and coffee mugs, allow our customers to interact with their memories.

-Dmitry Belyaev

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