Humanising the ancestors

Charles 7 Comments


We get quite a few emails here at the GFG from makers of ashes urns. Most of these urns are ghastly and get no more than a thanks but no thanks. We are unfailingly courteous.

This morning was an exception. We received some stunning images from a Plymouth-based ceramist, Alan Braidford — in answer, it almost seemed, to Richard Rawlinson’s post earlier on today. Wonderful work, we’re sure you’ll agree. There are virtually no makers of funeral urns whose work has evolved beyond the container-of-some-sort stage, but Alan’s urns are anthropoid — they are sculpted figures of humans. What a difference that makes. Depending on size, perfect for a garden memorial or for a family altar to the ancestors. Okay, so we don’t do altars to ancestors. Ours is a developed culture which has lost touch with the value of ritual observances based in an idea of duty. For the sake of our own emotional health, we need to reinvent these observances, and Alan’s work points the way. Do you think they speak too much of grief?

Here is Alan talking about what he does:

My ceramic work is figurative and mostly stoneware. The work is on a domestic scale ranging between 30 to 150 cm in height.

Although my natural impulse is to make sculpture, I am very interested in making functional pieces, and with this in mind I have been developing a series of simplified sitting figures to be used as funeral urns. As this work will be fired to 1250c it will be frost proof, and thus can be placed outside in a garden setting. Ashes or memorabilia can be placed inside the urn through an opening, before the ceramic is fixed to a stone base.

The look of my work is influenced by an interest in ancient history – Celtic, Etruscan, Cycladic and Middle Eastern.

Coiling is the construction process most employed, although I am currently developing a press moulded process in order to reproduce one of the urn designs.  Slips,engobes and lava glazes are used to add surface texture.

Alan is also interested in working collaboratively with bereaved people in the matter of design. If you want to contact Alan, write to him at alanbraidford(at)btinternet(dot)com. His website is here






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Jenny Uzzell
12 years ago

These are absolutely brilliant, although I imagine very emotive for many. The Cyladic influence is obvious and personally I love it. As I mentioned I am reading through the archive of this blog and this morning arrived at Jan 2011 where I was very interested in the discussion on shrines, to which I think these are not entirely irrelevant! You say this is the first time you have come accross anthropoid urns, I actually have a friend who makes anthropoid urns, loosely based on the Neolithic ‘Venus figurines’ and possibly not made for a mass market but he has been… Read more »

Charles Cowling
12 years ago

A groovy guy, Jenny. Thank you for the link!

Fran Hall
12 years ago

Great post Charles, really like this. And wow Jenny – what a cool guy! Agree your friend the green man potter is totally not aiming for the mass market but that makes his work even more appealing! I want one of his unique perfect imperfect pieces!

james showers
12 years ago

These are fantastic pieces, with or without ashes inside. They’d stand up as a headstone and break hearts where polished marble just stares.
I can’t wait to suggest that a family check out his work.
Nice one Charles.

gloria mundi
12 years ago

The idea of one of these pieces in the garden as a kind of ancestral shrine is a lovely idea, I think, and of course, when you move, you can take it with you. Are they too redolent of grief? Well, a matter of taste, but I can see that over time you might want to move from sculptured grief to calmer remembrance.

Melissa Stewart
Melissa Stewart
12 years ago

I like the one in the stream so much I might get cremated instead of buried! No probably not but I’ll certainly tell people about these. Lovely!

12 years ago

An interesting idea. Gives a serious situation some humanity and individuality.
Well done Alan.