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The Art of Cloisonne Cremation Urns

by Linda Banks

 Going Home Cloisonne cremation urn for ashes

When our Aunt Hope passed away we were guided by her wishes to be cremated and for that her ashes be placed in a memorial urn.  Selecting an urn for her together as a family was a personal and unique experience, and resulted in choosing a cloisonné cremation urn.  Even though we were mourning and it was a difficult time, we found that the experience of selecting the urn together made us feel closer to her.  It felt like a final act of love.

After we determined what our budget for the urn would be, we found there was an overwhelmingly large selection of memorial cremation urns available to us. There are urns made of various metals, ceramics, stone and glass.  Urns are painted or engraved, or encased in lamps. Themed urns are available for those who served in the military, or to reflect a person’s favorite sport or hobby. Urns are designed to reflect a person’s faith. There are also photo cremation keepsake urns that display a family photo. 

The funeral home returned our aunt’s final remains in a heavy plastic bag secured inside a cardboard box.  We took our time and looked at various memorial urns, and then selected an urn that felt right.  We were finally drawn to purchase a cloisonné memorial urn.  These urns are classic works of art created using an ancient mosaic technique.  We loved our aunt, knew her favorite colors, and were able to select a beautiful urn that reminded us of her.

The cloisonné is an artistic technique that has been in practice for hundreds of years.  No one knows who first practiced this technique of fusing designs to metal urns, however ornaments with cloisonné have been found in tombs in the Middle East and have been dated before Christ.   The artwork was originally displayed exclusively in temples and palaces until trade routes through China eventually brought the art to Europe and the West.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and other museums around the world have examples of ancient Persian, Chinese and Japanese cloisonné. 

The cloisonné technique involves creating a design on a metal item using metal filament, usually gold or copper.  Designs are sketched onto the urn surface, and then the tiny metal threads are secured to the urn by adhesive to outline the design. The small spaces, or cloisonné, created by the wire are then filled in with several layers of colorful enamel paste, applied by hand, which is fired in at low temperatures.  The heat fuses the filament and the enamel to the urn.  The urns are then sanded down, and more enamel paste applied to fill in the tiny cells and create an even surface.  The final step of the process is to gold-plate the metal filament pattern outlining the design.  

The final effect is stunning. In addition to cremation urns, the ancient art form has historically been used for jewelry, boxes, vases and dinnerware.   This brief video illustrates the technique and effort involved to create the unique finish.

Linda Banks provided extended end-of-life care for her beloved Aunt who was like her mother. When her brother suddenly died, she was instrumental in orchestrating all of the details of his final wishes to be cremated. Linda has been an active blogger for ten years, including blogging about Willie Nelson and his family. Willie told her recently that he reads her blog every day.