Glass Whispers turns loved ones’ cremains into artworkWritten by Matt Liasse | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Before Gretchen Brell-Schroeder creates her glass art pieces, she says a prayer. Not in hopes that the piece will come out nicely, but over the cremains she is using.
With Glass Whispers, Schroeder and her husband, Richard, use ashes of clients’ loved ones to create art. She said the process is spiritual for her.
“It’s really a huge privilege to do this for people,” Schroeder said. “I feel very honored. We also feel very obliged to do a really good job on them. I want to do my best work on these pieces. It’s something that’s very important to us.”
Glass Whispers makes sculptures in many shapes, including hearts, globes, rubbing stones and teardrops, the newest design. Schroeder puts the ashes inside the sculpture.
“It’s just a way of having that person in front of you every day,” Schroeder said. “It’s a way of keeping that person near and dear to your heart.”
Schroeder has been creating glass art for six years, but recently started working with cremains.
“I took up glass blowing in my middle age and just fell in love with it,” Schroeder said. “It was kind of therapy for me during a difficult time in my life. I was hooked from the first gather of glass.”
In 2010, Richard gave heart-shaped glass sculptures as gifts to his colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic. A co-worker approached him and asked if he had ever tried putting ashes inside the glass. He returned home and asked Schroeder for her thoughts.
While researching online, Schroeder found artists doing it on the West Coast.
“So I thought, ‘Well, gosh, if they’re doing it, I don’t know why I can’t,’” Schroeder said.
She began to experiment using the cremains of Richard’s mother.
“She’d think it’d be cool to be a piece of art,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the first creation came out well, and the color of the cremains inside the glass astonished her. “We were stunned at how beautiful they came out,” said Schroeder, who said she loves how the cremains sparkle when held up to light. “I can remember the first time I looked at them, I was blown away at how beautiful they looked.”
Richard carries his mother’s cremains inside a rubbing stone in his pocket most of the time.
“It’s a piece of artwork that has deeper meaning than just a piece of artwork,” Richard said. “It takes [loved ones] out of the box. It gets them off of the bookshelf.”
Now, about half the glass art Schroeder makes contain cremains. Glass Whispers can also use the cremains of pets. Schroeder has made one for her daughter’s dog.
But the business comes with some challenges, Schroeder said.
“The biggest challenge about this is marketing,” Schroeder said. “Right after somebody dies, it’s too soon. They are not ready to make a decision like that, which is really understandable.”
Clients are told to expect a two- to four-week wait, depending on when the artists can get studio time, but making a piece takes about 40 minutes.
The process is the same as standard glass-blowing. Taking a rod with a heated end, Schroeder gathers molten glass from a furnace. She rolls this gather of glass on a table to cool and smooth it out. Most of Schroeder’s designs are three-gathered designs, so the same step is repeated three times. On the second gather, she incorportates the color and cremains. After the third, she manipulates the glass into a shape.
After removing the glass from the rod, the piece is put into an annealing oven for 24 hours.
“It’s all a chemical process,” Schroeder said. “It has to cool down very slowly in order for it to keep its shape.”
Schroeder performs these steps with Richard acting as her assistant. Richard hopes to one day make his own work with Schroeder assisting him.
“You can’t guarantee how it’s going to come out,” Schroeder said. “It’s different every time. The humidity in the air can affect how it flows.”
The pieces are presented in white boxes with tissue paper. Each costs $180-$230, depending on the size and shape, except for rubbing stones, which are less.
Schroeder said she likes to sit down and meet clients before handling the cremains of their loved ones.
The process takes half a teaspoon of cremains, Schroeder said. She never uses all of the cremains and unused portions are returned to clients.
“Some people are not at all comfortable handling the cremains, so I often will say, ‘Just give me the whole box and I’ll take what I need out of it,’” she said.
For more information, visit glasswhispers.net.