When they put a little flash in the ash, there's no limit to what boutique morticians can urn
Going out in style is easy in Seattle. Thanks to Greg Lundgren, the city is the leader of what could be called a boutique death movement.
Just north of an artists' bar he owns on Boren Avenue called The Hideout, Lundgren, 38, recently opened an art-after-death shop, a division of Lundgren Monuments, which offers glass tombstones that he says are at least as tough as granite.
In the store he sells urns made by top craftspeople from around the country but mostly concentrated in the Northwest, working in glass, carved wood and ceramic.
There are also options for adventure funerals. Many companies providing them are in business already. In that case, Lundgren functions as a clearinghouse or go-between. When somebody comes in wanting ideas, Lundgren has lots.
They include Eternal Reefs ($3,500 and up). Yes, you, your loved ones and pets can become part of a reef in the ocean nearest you. You can also become a tree (Spiritree) or part of a diamond (LifeGem). Best of all, your ashes can go places you didn't. Packed into a spaceship, they can circle the Earth (Memorial Space Flights, $3,500 and up), with family and friends tracking your course from their computers. ("Hey, look! Mom's landed on the moon!")
Who needs this kind of novelty? Although Lundgren caters to those who can afford a little more than the average send-off, he thinks anyone with a personal aesthetic deserves more art in death than they're likely to get.
"The store is a bit of a protest to the way the funerary business has looked and operated for a century," he said. "We want to change the whole experience."
What's wrong with the experience?
Lundgren doesn't believe people who care about what they wear, drive or put in their homes would want to enter eternity in a bland, 1950s-style coffin. And if they plan to be cremated, why would they want their ashes to be in an urn they wouldn't otherwise own?
Lovers of the good, true and beautiful will be able to rest comfortably in Arne Pihl's walnut burl urn ($2,000) or John Ellefson's moonlike ceramic urn ($2,200). They can be proud of Dante Marioni's black glass vase with blue wings (big price on request) and also of Roy McMakin's personalized urns, memorials and coffins (bigger prices on request).
Lundgren cast a clear glass urn ($3,000) for an exhibitionist he knows, who ordered it with the idea that his family would be able to see him in ash form. Want a tattoo in ink that contains the remains of a dead friend? Lundgren can hook you up, and he's also in touch with the green burial movement.
Not necessarily green is Charles Krafft. He'll make human bone china in a form that best represents the deceased, such as a wrench for a plumber, a helmet for a World War II foot solider or a liquor bottle for a whiskey connoisseur ($3,000 and up).
The idea for the store took hold in 2007, two years after Lundgren's father died. Lundgren hadn't liked the available caskets and urns or the atmosphere of the funeral home.
Lundgren commissioned Seattle artist Michael Leavitt to make 6-inch action figures of his father fishing ($900, individually commissioned through the store). Leavitt already was making cake-topper figures for weddings, so it wasn't a stretch. Lundgren asked Jesse Edwards and Alan Hurley to paint the late Mr. Lundgren's portrait ($2,500, also available through the store).
"I love them," Lundgren said of the paintings. "If there were a fire, they'd be among the first things I'd grab. Every morning I look at them and say, 'Hi, Dad.' "
Lundgren more or less backed into this business.
"I needed to make a living. I looked at my skill sets and fell into glass."
He worked at Jim Nelsen's Seattle Stain Glass from 1995 to 2002. When he left to create Lundgren Monuments, Nelsen became his partner. Their first commissioned monument was for a teenaged girl.
"Life is short," Lundgren said. "When I was 15, I couldn't imagine making it to 30."
He did, but most of his clients are parents of those who didn't.
"My dad died at 63, and I never heard him say, 'Why me?' He had a good life, loved his family, his job, his friends and went fishing whenever he wanted. He was not ripped off. If I died today, I wouldn't be ripped off. I've had lots of fun.
"What is a rip-off is people my age burying a 16-year-old. Anything I can do for them, I do. What I'm trying to get across is that death is part of life. We're all going to do it. There are cultures that deal with death better, like Mexicans with the Day of the Dead and the Irish with their wakes. There are plenty of options, and that's what I'm here for, to provide new ones."
Lundgren hopes to spark a revolution in death consciousness. Eventually, he plans to sell final resting places inside public sculptures.
"What if 30 people got together to buy themselves space in a Jeff Koons? Cemeteries are among the last urban green spaces. They need to be sculpture parks. Forget zombies from the 'Night of the Living Dead.' I'd like to see people playing chess among the tombstones, kids skipping rope or texting their friends."
A new take on the old subject of death isn't all that Lundgren is about. Besides running The Hideout, he's a member of a performance art group known as PDL. But the idea of his own demise is never far from his thoughts.
When he gets the money together, he wants to commission an artist to create a sculpture of Marcel Duchamp playing chess.
"I want my ashes in that sculpture," he said. "I can't think of a better place to be."