Two artists who have found a niche in this specialty market create work memorializing loved ones who have passed away.
Many niche markets are open to artists and craftspeople to sell their work, and the funerary market is no exception. The artists we spoke with for this article both expressed how honored they are to work with grieving families. They consider it their greatest responsibility to act in collaboration with those families to produce art that celebrates the life of their loved one.
Sculptor Bridgette Mongeon started working with posthumous sculpture after she got a request from a parent who wanted her to portray a deceased son. It has since become a significant part of her business – so much so that she has actually written a book on the subject.
Bridgette works from photographs, interviews family members, and uses digital technology to design 3D models that help give an idea of the finished work. She originally sculpts the figure in clay, which is a time-consuming process. The finished work of art is cast in bronze. Some requests come from universities or organizations, but many commissions are from private families.
Her services include not only creating and delivering a finished sculpture, but she also offers a video of her process for the family. If requested, she can set up a blog for family and friends of the person being memorialized, featuring the sculpture. This can be a place for them to connect and remember and encourages participation.
Bridgette does some advertising in industry trade magazines, has made connections with cemeteries who can provide referrals, and also contacts universities who may want to use her services. She indicates that “the nature of sculpture is to memorialize and recognize,” so posthumous sculpture makes a natural connection. Her website explains her work in detail to prospective clients.
Ceramic artist Keith Lahti of Chloe, West Virginia originally became interested in creating cremation urns when reading about the history of pottery. Cremated remains have been stored in elaborate urns dating back to the Roman Empire. Keith states that the “celebratory and respectful treatment of human remains is a big part of history.”
Keith has been making one-of-a-kind cremation urns for about 15 years, which comprise about 30% of his business – the rest being traditional pottery. Although he offers urns for sale on his website, about two thirds of urns sold are custom orders. He also makes urns for pet remains.
When a body is cremated, the ashes are delivered in a box to the family. There usually is no hurry to purchase an urn, so customers are usually willing to wait 3 or 4 weeks to receive their commissioned item. Keith mentions that quite often he speaks at length with people ordering an urn so that he can get it exactly right. He says, “I have a different approach. My philosophy isn’t about making money, it’s about what I can give. I want to do a really ethical job for every customer.”
He works in two different styles, using glazed stoneware for some designs, and creating earthenware “ritual vessels” for others. Some requests have been very intricate, such as the family who ordered an urn featuring an entire astrological chart with birth and death dates and symbol medallions.
Keith’s website, word-of-mouth and referrals are the sources for his business in this niche market.
This specialty market may be a good match for artists who have a lot to offer families who have lost loved ones. Do you sell into a niche market? What products do you offer?