My First Urn

 My love for ceramics began when I was seventeen years old. I had just moved back in with my mother and stepfather. She was already taking ceramic classes and I really loved the work she was doing. To create mother and daughter quality time, I joined my mom and went to the lessons with her. 

 At that time, we were living in the quaint little town of Port Hope, Ontario. The ceramic classes were in the neighbouring town of Cobourg. I loved going to Cobourg because it was where I spent much of my youth growing up. It is a beautiful town with a popular beachfront overlooking Lake Ontario. 

 The ceramic shop was tucked away on a side street. I enjoyed opening the door, causing the little bells to chime and announce our arrival. Everyone at the tables would pause for a slight moment to look over at the door and have a curious peek as to who had just arrived. The workshop was usually super warm from the lingering heat of the kiln. One area of the shop was designated for all the greenware. The rows of shelves displayed all kinds of greenware ornaments, statues and dishes. There were plenty of traditional garden gnomes carrying water cans, pushing wheelbarrows, or were smelling flowers. Holiday decor of Christmas trees, Halloween pumpkins and Thanksgiving serving dishes were always in stock. I began my craft of ceramics by practicing on a skull mug, an ashtray, and Care Bears. 

 For two years, my mother and I enjoyed our weekly classes together. I was quite surprised and impressed with my mother’s artistic skills. It seemed I’d inherited some of her passion for the art. The last piece I did at that time was what I called ‘my urn’. It wasn’t exactly an ‘actual urn’, but rather a decanter. The clay imprint was of a First Nations Chief standing in prayer on a cliff in the mountains. I used the decanter itself to represent the Great Spirit. Therefore, the majestic scene of the chief and the mountains became the belly of the Great Spirit. 

1985. My first urn.

 In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense that I would create such a thing. From a young age, I’ve sensed the power of nature and the presence of the elements. As a child, I was fascinated by the spirituality of the natural world. The urn idea was most likely influenced by my father. By the time I was nineteen, he and my stepmother were then working in the business of body removal services. It was through their work that I began to see all aspects of the death industry in an entirely new light. I was not permitted to go to the scene of a death, but I did have the opportunity to go to the hospital cold storage units or the crematorium. Due to my spiritual background and ability to perceive spirits, I began to see the importance of beauty and uniqueness in a casket or urn. For the next twenty years, I felt the calling of creating these urns, but for unclear reasons or excuses I could come up with, I dismissed the calling. 

  I no longer dismiss the calling. 

We’ve all read the stories of people being buried in Cadillacs, etc., but for the average person, the cost of such a thing would be prohibitive. Imagine if your husband loved Cadillacs that much, and you were able to provide an urn which looked like a Cadillac or even just a logo. We could provide an opportunity for them to bury or contain the ashes of their loved one while acknowledging the uniqueness of their life and personality, without taking every cent they have. I believe it is important to provide a service that not only reflects the uniqueness of our clients, but also the values from which this company was created, thus: personal expression, respect and compassion.

Woodmen of the World

One of my fondest childhood memories is connected to my old elementary school:  St. Mary’s, a little school tucked away in the hamlet of Grafton, Ontario. It wasn’t the school itself which made such an impression on me, it was the adjacent cemetery on the grounds of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Photo from the website of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. aka St. Mary’s.

Sometimes at recess, I would meander alone through the graveyard. The other kids kept far away from the area in fear of gruesome discoveries or ghosts. For me, it felt sacred and quiet. There was that feeling of not being alone, but you felt you were safe. From a child’s perspective, one good scream and you knew the recess teacher could run a lot faster than some old ghost could. Besides, it was always in the middle of the day, and in the middle of the day I was a pretty brave kid. 

The headstones, in their tidy rows, stood in mute assembly. Some were grand monuments while others were as simple as a flat slate with a name and date. Older headstones were fascinating. They told a lot about a person: their name, date of birth, date of death, and who their loved ones were. There were details describing whether they’d been someone’s beloved wife or husband, daughter or son. Some graves flourished with flowers and regular care, while other graves faded in solitary melancholy. 

As an adult, I have a fondness yet for exploring graveyards, and picking up clues to those who have found eternal rest within their gates. Just this spring I visited the Mount Pleasant Cemetery and was reminded of the unique stories each of the tombstones told. There was one in particular that stood out that day. It was a tombstone that was unique and mysterious. The headstone was created to look like a carved tree stump. The craftsmen created a flat surface for the declarations by forming a parchment on the tree stone.  They also added a crest that declares the person who was buried there was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternity. The monument was decorated with the Latin inscription “dum tacet clamat” which means, “Though silent, he speaks”.

Woodman of the World headstone at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

When I got home, I looked on the internet to see who or what organization was connected to this “Woodmen of the World”. It turns out that the group was created in the USA by a man named Joseph Cullen Root in 1890. Root’s vision was to create a fraternal benefit society that would “minister to the afflicted to relieve distress; to cast a sheltering arm about the defenseless living ; to encourage broad charitable views…” 

A lot has changed since the early 1900s, but the Woodmen of the World still exist today.  The executive vice president Wayne Graham said, “The objects of Woodcraft have always exemplified love, honour and remembrance. Fraternalists are concerned with helping others, promoting patriotism and civic responsibility, and providing financial protection for their families”.   Although the Woodmen of the World is still in operation as a fraternity and insurance company, they do not create headstones for all their members.

I have to say it…I am shocked at how large this fraternity was and still is, and how much influence it has in the United States.  Woodmenlife is a big name in the states. 

So, I decided that having come across an old Woodmen of the World headstone here in Edmonton was a pretty cool thing. Especially since they are most likely to be found in parts of the USA and eastern Canada. I will definitely be looking for more of them on my travels. Who knows, maybe there was one back in that little graveyard behind the St. Mary’s School & Church in Grafton. When I looked at the area on Google Maps, I could see that the school had been either rebuilt or had extensive renovations. The church and graveyard looked very much the same. It’s such a beautiful part of Ontario.  I hope one day I can go back and revisit that old graveyard, and all within which had inspired me. 

If you who would like to know more details and stories about the Woodmen of the World, I invite you to check out these links:

Woodmenlife: history bio

A Grave Interest Blog on Woodmen Graves

The Mysterious Woodmen

Woodman of the World 

Wikipedia

Greetings

Have you ever reached that moment when you realized it was time to stop avoiding your calling? Did you think your ideas seemed ludicrous? Maybe you thought the idea was “too big” and you’d never be successful. Perhaps someone close to you talked you out of taking those first steps towards what had been calling you forward. Or it could be that you just weren’t quite ready yet to make a long term commitment. For me, it was all of those things. For so many years I traced the outskirts of my calling with ‘what ifs’. Then the day came when I asked myself, ‘what if’ I actually fail because I never truly began. That thought, that idea was more disturbing than any of the things that had originally held me back.

Therefore, Welcome to my new endeavor as I embrace my calling. My company is Forget~Me~Not Studios and the blog Urning a Living is my platform for sharing this journey. As I create unique, personalized urns, I will also be embracing my love for travel, writing, and exploring how different cultures use their own traditions to celebrate their dead, and bring comfort to those left behind.

And so it begins…..