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Turning Human Ashes Into Works Of Art
April 19, 2013
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Sergio Portillo creates a portrait using paint and cremains (Photo: WHNT)

A still life from death? It's certainly a different way of honouring someone you've loved and lost.

These artists are using people's cremated remains, or cremains, in works of art.

A while back, Sergio Portillo from Florence, Alabama started painting portraits of deceased pets, mixing their cremains into his paint. People heard what he was doing, and he started getting calls to do the same for people.

For each piece, Portillo discusses the design with family members to get a deeper understanding of the deceased. Then, he plans the self-portrait, landscape, sculpture or even abstract work based on what he's learned.

Along the way, Portillo adds people's cremains to his chosen medium, acrylic paint.

"Missing someone can be overwhelming and I like to believe the loved ones art can help ease the pain in a lot of ways," says Portillo. "I like to incorporate the beauty of their lives and all the beautiful things they like to do. I feel like it's something very special to me."

Michael Butler is another artist working with cremains to create tributes to deceased loved ones. The impressionist in Pennsylvania runs Loved Ones Art, a company offering Commissioned Art From Ash.

He creates oil paintings inspired by photographs of the places where a loved one's ashes were dispersed.

As it says on his site, a "graceful impressionistic oil painting is created by gently blending a small amount of cremation ash into the pigments."

Photo: East Sandwich, Massachusetts, by Michael Butler, incorporates cremation ash

But not every cremains artist sticks to paint. And not all their projects are simple tributes - some are challenging conceptual works of art.

Dutch artist Wieki Somers' project "Consume or Conserve", turns human ashes into 3D-printed sculptures of household objects. She says her work is designed to highlight "the intimate relationship of users with the everyday objects they encounter."

The project asks some interesting questions: "would we become more attached to these objects" if they were made from people's remains? Could we look forward to "a 'second life' as a rocking chair, vacuum cleaner, perhaps even a toaster?"


Interesting as it is, this may not be the way everyone wants their loved ones to be remembered for all eternity.

If cremains art isn't your thing, there are plenty of other ways to go into that good night.

Fireworks: Heavens Above Fireworks will send you out with a bang - and a flash.

The company's services include "rockets for self-firing, incorporating funeral ashes... supported by other fireworks to create your own mini display."

snow_angel_teddy_bear.jpgTeddy Bears: As the Telegraph put it, Huggable Urns offers "conventional teddy bears that unzip at the back to reveal velvet pouches for cremated ashes".

Inspired by the death of the company founder's father, "who wanted something soft and cuddly that people could hold and to have around them at all times", Huggable Urns offers a "hold me" pillow in addition to the cuddly bears.

Glass: Human remains are often kept in containers - but Memory Glass will actually use those remains to create one out of glass.

The glass-blowing can "accompany any other cremation service, including urns, scatterings and burials. Using an extremely small amount of cremated remains, every member of the family can have their own tangible keepsake that will last forever."

Reefs: Eternal Reefs was the brainchild of a University of Georgia student who frequently dived off the coast of Florida with a college classmate.

They noticed the environmental degradation of reefs, so Don Brawley decided to do something about it: he came up with the "reef ball", a final resting place under the sea that replicates the natural marine environment and adds habitat to dying reefs.


From the site: "For families and individuals that choose cremation, Eternal Reefs offers a new memorial choice that replaces cremation urns and ash scattering with a permanent environmental living legacy."

It's especially popular with navy personnel, environmentalists, fishermen and divers - people "comforted by the thought of being surrounded by all that life".

For even more to commemorate a loved one or to decide on your own final resting place, check out 9 Other Weird Things That Can Be Done With Your Cremated Remains from Zoot Patrol.


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