Grave Goods

The growth of an idea...

'Slate Container' by Brenda Roy

Diane Edwards at work on Boxes
'Forged Vessel' by David Robertson

The original concept for this exhibit was a more modest one, first sparked by conversations with my artist friends Brenda Roy, Diane Edwards, and David Robertson, then further warped under the influence of Janis Book ...

A long while back, Brenda Roy had mentioned a repeating competition held out of the USA for contemporary designs for funeral urns. The story goes that a major funeral company in California was having a difficult time getting attractive containers for the ashes of those cremated. As the 'Hippy' generation gets older, more and more people are wanting cremation for their remains. Along with this is an increasing number of North Americans who have embraced other religious paths than main line Christian. To remedy this, a competition was started, with prizes given for outstanding work. On top of this, the sponsoring company would also purchase a good number of the top works for the use of their own clients.

Hmmm... Now it turned out that Diane Edwards (who works in marquetry) had actually created some specific containers for ashes in the past. She was able to pass on some information about sizes and other requirements. At the time we also discussed an idea for organizing a group artisan show - specifically of funeral urns rendered in any number of mediums.

Very interesting, I thought. Latter I had one of those late night conversations with David Robertson, concerning work, life, the universe (everything). Both of us were floundering a wee bit and running out of ideas and inspiration. I mentioned those other two conversations, and we started thinking about using forged steel as a material for 'containers'.

I then got side tracked into pulling together a different concept exhibit - Out of the Fiery Furnace. That group exhibit showcased the work of artists who 'directly manipulate their materials while those are incandescent'. David, it turned out, had not only remembered those late night ramblings, he had acted on them. One of his contributions to Furnace was 'Forged Vessel', his first crack at creating a urn using blacksmithing techniques.

Now, one of the other contributing artists to Fiery Furnace was Janis Book. One of her submissions was a large free standing grave cross. It was her first large forged object, standing about 5 feet tall. After the official opening of Fiery Furnace, a gaggle of us retired to a nearby pub. All were quite charged up by the range and quality of the pieces that had been contributed, and talk turned to other group exhibit possibilities.

One other important link in this chain is provided by some deeper background into my own pathway as an artist. I had originally gotten interested in metalwork by way of my involvement with historic re-creation. My first exhibit, Reflections of the Conquest, included both contemporary artists inspired by a historic theme, but also the work of re-enactors working closer to historic prototypes. Any student of history, most especially anyone interested in material culture, understands the significant role 'grave goods' play in our perceptions of past civilizations. Certainly the physical objects related to, and found as part of, burials provide important clues to aspects of both ritual practice and daily life that may otherwise be long lost to us.

At the same time, the more you learn about historical realities, the more you start to realize that those same grave goods may not exactly be telling the whole truth. Just what is included inside the burial, how the grave is laid out, what ceremonial surrounds the process of death and internment - all may have as much to do with the living worlds concern for politics, status and other very practical problems.

Taken altogether, the wide possibilities of how contemporary artisans might also chose to approach the very many facets of the topic of 'grave goods' seemed fertile ground. Each individual has brought personal experience, private belief, historical knowledge and quite often a pinch of humour to the topic. All this inspiration has been then molded by the most skillful of hands to create a wide range of objects that are as beautiful as they are thought provoking.

Darrell Markewitz - Exhibit Currator