New Mexico-based artist Justin Crowe first incorporated cremated human ashes into a dinnerware set, last year, as part of an art project, but after his friends learned about it and asked him to create bespoke items for them, he decided to turn the idea into a business. Today, his company, Chronicle Cremation Design, offers people the chance to keep their loved ones close by having their ashes incorporated into everyday items like coffee cups, bowls or candle holders.
“I wanted to create a dinnerware set that infuses a sense of mortality into everyday life,” Crow says about his original idea of mixing human ashes into tableware. In 2015, he purchased 200 human bones from a bone dealer, crushed them into a fine powder and mixed them into a coating glaze for a set of functional plates, cups and bowls. He ended up using them for an unconventional dinner party, with the guests eating off of repurposed human remains.
Interestingly, while searching for human bones for his artistic project, Crow put up an ad on Craigslist, asking for about two cups of ashes for $35. He got three responses on the first day,one of which was from a woman who threatened to have him investigated, quoting the Bible and telling him he was going to hell. “It’s a really polarizing idea,” the artist admits.
Photo: Chronicle Cremation Designs
Although “Nourish” was designed as a one-time project, after his friends started asking him if he could do bespoke orders for them, integrating their loved ones’ ashes into various pottery items, he realized it was a very special cremation option, and soon founded Chronicle Cremation Designs. “People asked, ‘If I gave you my father’s ashes, could you make a coffee cup, urn or bowl?’ So this business came out of the art project,” Justin told The Guardian. “Integrating someone’s ashes into ceramics is a way of infusing their memory into everyday life. So you can have coffee every morning with the memories of your grandmother, or have a bowl on the table to spark stories at family dinners.”
A cremated adult body usually generates between 1.8kg (4lb) and 2.7kg (6lb) of ash, but Crow only needs about 100 grams to create the unique glazing. Once fired in a kiln, the ceramics become water and heat-proof, as well as food- and drink-safe. He explains that the chemical composition of human ash is made up of all of the same natural materials used to create a typical ceramic glaze. “These just happen to originate from a previously living person. It really puts into perspective that we are all just made of the same dust we walk on. It’s pretty beautiful,” the artist says.
Chronicle Cremation Design charges $399 to create the custom glaze plus between $159 and $649 for each pottery object. Once a customer places an order, a special ash “collection kit” is sent out to them, which has to be mailed back at the company so the personalized ceramics can be created.