Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

'Afterthoughts:' Laid to rest in marbles

 

June 27, 2019

Jenna Kunze

John Svenson demonstrates the process of cremation bead creation at his studio, Extreme Dreams Gallery. Torch temperatures reach 2200 degrees to melt the glass and oxidize the ashes.

When local Haines artist John Svenson's mother died 15 years ago, he did not bury her, or scatter her ashes in the sea.

Instead, Svenson included bits of her cremated body into more than 100 marbles, bringing them on travels to deposit bits of her all over the world.

"The coolest thing I did was put her in a little wad of hamburger and feed her to a lion in Tanzania," he said. He also "shot her" into the sea in Antarctica, "chucked her over a few shrines and temples" in Taiwan, and left her on top of Denali.

"The idea was to not have them really be found," Svenson said.

Immortalizing human remains is a concept that has since launched into a branch of Svenson's art business: cremation beads, marbles and pendants he calls "Afterthoughts."

Svenson said he gets clients - "everybody has got an uncle or an aunt or a relative in a jar" - largely by word of mouth from locals and cruise ship passengers. He receives about a gram of ashes, and keeps them labeled in little baggies in drawers marked "humans!" "critters" or "rad rocks."

He guesses he's had more than 100 clients over the years, including pets, and is left with a bit of remains from each.

When Bobbi Figdor died of cancer in 2005, her husband George was left to decide how to best scatter her ashes.

"(John) made these beautiful marbles with blue glass," George Figdor said. "He tried to match the color of her eyes."

Figdor commissioned more than 20 marbles with Bobbi's ashes swirled inside for friends and family spread across Haines, the Pacific Northwest, and the East Coast. For himself, he keeps a marble of Bobbi in his living room on a cedar podium.

Bobbi was the first friend Svenson immortalized, later followed by a long list of locals and pets.

"The closer I was to the person, it's more personal," he said. "It's kind of creepy, but I'm glad I've got them. It's an honor to be chosen."

Svenson said when the next apocalypse happens, beads will survive in the rubble.

"It could be found by an archeologist a few thousand years from now," he said. "Beads are always found in the rubble. I like the staying power."

A quick Google search shows that Svenson is not the first in the artistic cremation glass industry.

Us Funeral Services.com promotes memorializing loved ones in diamonds, and Bostoncremation.org writes about "8 Unique things you can do with Cremation Ashes."

Svenson said what makes his business unique is the wearable bead angle.

Local Tom Ganner commissioned beads from Svenson when a close friend died.

"I wanted to find a way to honor his memory and keep him close to me and my heart and I thought putting him into a jewelry bead that I could wear would keep him close to me," Ganner said.

Svenson also makes "slingshot" funeral beads intended to be left, like his mother's remains, and never discovered or recognized for what they are.

His products get mixed reactions from first time viewers in his shop. "Most people cringe in terror or they love it to death," he said.

 
 

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