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Artistry amid cremation trend.

Putting the fun in funerary urns

Two finished funerary urns, far left, by woodturner Jason Van Duyn sit in his Raleigh, N.C., studio. He is competing in a national urn show next month.
Two finished funerary urns, far left, by woodturner Jason Van Duyn sit in his Raleigh, N.C., studio. He is competing in a national urn show next month.Read more

APEX, N.C. - Of all the pieces Julie Moore crafts in her home studio, the most popular is a brightly colored fabric vessel she calls "the party jar."

But in this case, the guest of honor is inside the jar.

"People that are vivacious and celebrate life - this one is what they really like," she says, lifting the ornately woven lid from the urn. "I want it to be a piece of art that they look at and they don't think, 'Oh. That's Dad's ashes.' "

Cremations in the U.S. have tripled since 1985, accounting for about 44 percent of all "dispositions," says the Cremation Association of North America. With families becoming increasingly transient, the group expects that to grow to 55 percent over the next decade.

As cremations soar, more people are looking for urns that, well, don't look like urns.

"At least one in five Americans have an urn in their house," says Robin Simonton, head of Raleigh's historic Oakwood Cemetery. "And if you're going to put someone on your mantle, you want them to look nice."

On April 19, Oakwood is hosting its first Urn Art & Garden Faire - a juried competition that's drawn entries from across the country. Although the idea of a national urn contest has raised eyebrows, Simonton thinks it's an appropriate way to recognize the trend in "the personalization of death."

Some have taken it to an extreme.

Foreverence, a funeral-products company in Eden Prairie, Minn., uses 3-D printing to allow customers to design urns in the shape of a favorite musical instrument or car, and to even create a lifelike bust of the deceased.

Oakwood has received more than two dozen entries, made of wood, ceramic, fabric, even North Carolina longleaf pine needles, and from as far as Wyoming.

Jason Van Duyn began making urns a couple of years ago. The Raleigh woodturner works almost exclusively with trees that have died naturally. His urns range in price from $300 for a 70-cubic-inch piece made from black cherry to $5,200 for a 450-cubic-inch red maple burl "companion" urn.

Moore got into funerary art through her interest in "green burial." She started with shrouds, pillows, and quilts for simple pine boxes; the urns seemed a natural progression.

Often, the family will send her items of the deceased's clothing. She recently made an urn out of T-shirts from a teenage boy who'd committed suicide.

"It made a very pretty urn," she says. "And it was the colors of his life."

Raleigh resident Norma Marti bought her own party jar about two years ago.

"I turned 60 that year . . . that last quarter century of life was looming," she says. "I thought, 'Well, that's really cool.' And I can actually display it as art - until it's needed."