When Justin Crowe’s grandfather passed away in his own home, it changed his outlook on death and the everyday. So much so that it inspired him to transform the ashes of the dead into ceramic objects - from vases to coffee cups.
"His passing in that environment helped normalise his death and ideas of my own mortality," he says.
Cremation ceramics - in pictures
"I wanted to create an art piece that allowed other people to have that same experience, confronting mortality in everyday life."
As he shared the idea behind the project with others, friends asked him to have custom pieces created using their loved-one’s ashes, and Chronicle Cremation Designs was born.
To create the ceramics, the ashes are collected, then ground into a find powder, and added to a glaze mixture including clay and other materials. The ashes in the glaze melt to form a gloss which is used to coat items. The ceramics are heated in a kiln to over 1300*C.
Prices range from $190 (£150) for cremation jewellery to $649 (£520) for a center-piece bowl. Candle luminaries, coffee, mugs and cremation urns are among the objects he can create. Customers often ask for several items to be made using the glaze so a number of people can own a memorial object.
Since starting the business in mid-October, Crowe has created 35 pieces using the ashes of parents, siblings, children and pets. The candle luminary is the most popular.
But when you can transform the deceased into a diamond, or a painting, or shoot them into space, why make them into something as banal, and arguably insulting, as a coffee cup?
“Adding ashes to ceramics allows us to produce functional design objects for daily life that also embody a powerful story,” says Crow. “I think using glaze and ceramics to make memorial objects is a perfect blend of symbolism, functionality, respect, and anonymity. These are objects that can last unchanged for centuries.
“The people who buy our memorial products are looking for a way to keep their memories close to them. Instead of looking at a photograph or cremation urn on a shelf, our products allow people to interact with their memories. The warmth and movement of our candle luminary and the simple act of drinking coffee provide a powerful sensory aspect to remembering."
The versatility of the creation process means that Crowe receives heart-breaking and inventive requests.
“We are currently working with a client who wants to spread symbols of her mother across Europe as she travels with family. Rather than carrying physical remains with her, we are working with her to create remembrance beads glazed with the ashes. She’ll drop the beads in different bodies of water as she travels Europe."
And despite the unconventional nature of his work, Crowe seems to be easy his clients' pain.
One customer told Crowe: "I can hardly wait to have coffee with my sister every morning. I miss her beyond words."