One of the only things in this life that hasn’t gone up in price in the past decade is the cost of dying. Online funeral service providers like Basic Funerals cremations have seriously cut the costs of death services in Ontario, and this has had at least one spectacular side effect: custom funerary glass urns and memory glass sculptures have never been so popular.
Eric Davy, funerary glassblower in Toronto specializes in making coloured glass funeral urns, and lists three reasons why hot glass artists have never had it so good. The first is the reduced price of cremations tied to the increasing popularity of online booking sites that can more cost effectively arrange death services and commission their artwork as part of the process. The second is the left over monies from prearranged funerals that had calculated higher prices for cremations based on 1990s prices, but still allow policyholders the flexibility to choose more economical options later; these folks choose cheaper cremations and order custom glass funeral urns. And lastly, there’s a growing sense of responsibility (guilt) in our society surrounding the storage of human ashes and honouring the memory of the dead. Bright coloured glass urns are a good choice that allows the bereaved family to bring the memory of the deceased back to life in their homes, and cheer up dreary rooms. ‘More and more people are choosing glass over graves’ says Eric, who also makes memory glass sculptures and paperweights.
Eric frequently uses The Living Arts Center in Mississauga, and this blog post gives a blow by blow account of the Birth of a Funeral Urn at this location. It starts with a white colour block dipped in molten glass, and heated in the glory hole. The blob is shaped on a marvel, rolled in coloured glass powder, heated and blown in the air then rolled in gold foil. At the bench the glass bubble is transferred to a punty rod, cut open and the lip finished. Then the urn itself is shaped one last time before being taken off the rod. Lastly the bottom is kicked up to make a nice circular base. The urn is placed into the annealing oven to gradually cool – three days cooling time is required. This small funeral urn sells for $950. The service can be further customized to include favourite colours, the name of the dead, different patterns, shapes, sizes and various different closures.
Memory glass includes the art of making glass with the ashes of cremated human or animal (pet) remains, and this is very tricky due to the different expansion rates of soda lime glass and the propensity of this substance to crack or shatter when subjected to rapid temperature changes. Fuel Ghoul details the thermal expansion of calcium ash in soda lime glass in his Science of Making Memory Glass post.
Glass was included in many ancient funerary rituals
Tied to the earliest religions, the act of burying their dead is how many people make sense of life. The body that ‘returns to dust’ completes the cycle and allows sufficient room for mysticism and hope for the soul’s eternal salvation. In this context, the idea for building monuments and making commemorative keepsakes in almost instinctual for humans – we’ve been doing it since before the Egyptians built The Pyramids. Glass objects have been recovered across the Roman Empire in domestic, industrial and funerary contexts. Anglo-Saxon glass has been found across England during archaeological excavations of both settlement and cemetery sites. The second half of the 17th century saw the production of memorial rings for distribution to friends and family after a funeral. When Samuel Pepys died in 1703, at least 123 rings were handed out in his memory. According to the Art of Mourning website, Stuart memorial jewelry included not just rings but also pendants, lockets and round slides (with two loops at the sides, worn on ribbon around the neck or sometimes wrist) and also buttons. Memory glass has once again come back into vogue. Today the term memory Glass is most commonly applied to solid art glass sculptures and keepsake jewelry that contains the cremated remains of friends, family and beloved pets, right in the mix.
Behold Canada’s memory glass master is maestro Angelo Rossi, an Italian glassblower that trained on the island of Murano in Venice, an ancient port city still widely acclaimed as the glass fashion capital of the world. Today Angelo operates a small glassblowing shop at the base of Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls.
Angelo’s best selling memory glass sculpture is The Angel which has cremated human remains in the body and these are especially obvious in the folds of the robe. The hands and halo are applied separately and do not contain ashes. The face is molded using at least one highly specialized tool, an angel face mold.
Angelo Rossi glass shop sells all manner of memory glass in many different colours, sizes and shapes including dogs, doves, dolphins, crosses, bunny rabbits, bones and swans. All sculpture takes four days minimum to create (and properly cool) and each piece costs approximately $500.
The bereaved family is welcome to attend the relic creation ritual at the shop with everyone in attendance getting a glass sculpture in four business days time. Times are changing and today hot glass artists are managing a mountain of demand as our society shifts away from traditional funerals and towards more economical mortuary methodologies that include beautiful art glass sculpture, memory glass keepsakes and glass funeral urns.
All Images Are © Rob Campbell
Robert Campbell Artist Bio
Rob Campbell is a freelance nature writer and author living in Toronto, Canada. Son of a beekeeper, Rob is keenly interested in using technology to improve conservation and the preservation of our natural world; he funds projects that use gadgets to study and improve the lives of insects (honeybees) and animals around us, especially those unfortunate creatures that are, like so many of us humans, stuck living in the city.
Rob is actively involved in Toronto’s business world and the city’s cultural art scenes.
Blog / Website: SmoJoe.com
Follow Rob Campbell on: Twitter