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An Elegant and Glamorous Cremation Urn

by Linda Banks

Cloisonné cremation urns

The flamboyant splendor of early cloisonné objects can’t be disputed. The intrinsic value of original cloisonné is its beauty born from a labor of love, fine artistic sense, and technical craftsmanship. Early cloisonné items, such as architectural elements, vases, and sword fittings, were particularly appropriate for adornment in temples and palaces.

Chinese cloisonné is the most well-known and ubiquitous. It has been suggested that cloisonné was first introduced to the Chinese emperor’s court of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). It appears that cloisonné was developed in the Near East, spread to the Byzantine Empire, and then found its way along the Silk Road into Korea, China, and Japan. The early cloisonné palette was limited to a few colors, most notably a turquoise that came to be known as “Ming Blue,” Ming pink, green, and yellow.  Interestingly some of the finest and most valued cloisonné was made in Japan around 1830, and features Chinese motifs of a reddish-brown sprinkled with gold backgrounds.

By mid-nineteenth century, cloisonné became a sought-after American import. Consequently, mass produced items often lost the original craftsmanship. Modern cloisonné is found in ornamental items, gifts and souvenirs, and many types of jewelry including earrings, brooches, bracelets and cloisonné beads. Today, cloisonné cremation urns make an extraordinary final resting place.

Selecting a cloisonné cremation urn or cremation keepsake

When our Aunt Hope passed away, we were guided by her wishes to be cremated and her ashes placed in a memorial urn. Selecting an urn as a family was a personal and unique experience. Despite our mourning, we found that the experience of selecting the urn together made us feel closer to her. The experience felt like a final act of love by selecting a beautiful urn in her favorite colors that would keep her alive in our hearts and memories.

After we determined our budget for the urn, we found there was an overwhelmingly large selection of memorial cremation urns available. 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. We were finally drawn to purchase a cloisonné cremation urn. These urns are classic works of art created using an ancient mosaic technique.

Cloisonné cremation items range from a very small urn for ashes such as the Essence Opal cremation urn, to larger urns, keepsakes, and candle holders. The Autumn Forest cloisonné adult cremation urn features a brilliant orange-red leaf motif accented with gold. Small keepsake hearts, and pet cremation urns such as the Blue Cat urn are also available.

The cloisonné technique

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and other museums around the world have examples of ancient Persian, Chinese and Japanese cloisonné. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art outlines the cloisonné technique as follows:

Cloisonné is the technique of creating designs on metal vessels with colored-glass paste placed within enclosures made of copper or bronze wires, which have been bent or hammered into the desired pattern. Known as cloisons (French for “partitions”), the enclosures generally are either pasted or soldered onto the metal body. The glass paste, or enamel, is colored with metallic oxide and painted into the contained areas of the design. The vessel is usually fired at a relatively low temperature, about 800°C. Enamels commonly shrink after firing, and the process is repeated several times to fill in the designs. Once this process is complete, the surface of the vessel is rubbed until the edges of the cloisons are visible. They are then gilded, often on the edges, in the interior, and on the base.   

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.