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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Artist's work solves grave problem
By Alison Freeman
BBC News, London

Emma Fenelon and one of her ceramic trees
Emma hopes enough ashes will be donated to create a ceramic forest
Deciding what to do with the ashes of a loved one can be tricky.

Recently there have been complaints that the practice can harm the environment, with areas that have had heavy doses of scattering seeing a change in their flora and fauna.

But one south London art student has come up with a way of using human ash in her ceramics work, turning the deceased into permanent memorials .

Emma Fenelon, 50, from West Norwood, south London, uses the ash in the glazes on the clay trees she is making for the final show of her degree course.

She learnt ash had been used to colour pottery in the past, and human ashes were suitable.

I thought I would be fascinated by that, so I was hoping it would catch people's attention - and it did
Emma Fenelon
Art student

"I started thinking, will different people make different glazes? Will it have a different effect?"

Emma's project looks at the layers which create a tree stump.

At first she used different minerals which related to her life to add texture to the pieces.

These included sand from the beach near the nuclear plant at Sizewell B in Suffolk, where her parents took her when she was a child "because the sea was always warmer there".

"I then realised I needed something personal, but that didn't relate to me," she said.

Michael Wilkinson
Michael Wilkinson said his mother would be pleased

She then appealed for people to donate the ashes of relatives on BBC London 94.9 radio station.

"I hoped somebody would come forward, I was sort of in two minds; Will anybody trust me? And then on the other hand I thought I would be fascinated by that, so I was hoping it would catch people's attention - and it did."

One person who answered the appeal was Michael Wilkinson, from Croydon, south London, whose parents Lily and John died more than 10 years ago.

He used to work as a bus driver in the area and regularly drove past the front of the Emma's college in Camberwell.

I'm sure my mother is very pleased - my dad, given long enough to think about it, would come round as well
Michael Wilkinson

"I often used to wonder what went on in here," he said.

"Emma explained everything that she was planning and the more she spoke I just knew this was right for my parents."

Emma re-fires the ashes which makes them change colour - Lily's have gone turquoise.

Mr Wilkinson said his wife and daughters were "absolutely delighted" with the idea and "couldn't wait" to see the finished article.

"A couple of people at work have held my gaze for a few seconds when I tell them, but then say it's a good idea."

Mr Wilkinson is not alone in coming forward with an offer of ashes.

Lily Wilkinson's ashes
Emma re-fires the ashes so they change colour

"I've had a slow trickle of people saying they'd like to donate some.

"I've got another lady coming next week. I said come and see my work, check me out, see if I'm ok and she said 'No, no, I'm coming with mother'."

It's still not clear what will happen to the trees after Emma's final show in June.

"I'm hoping someone's going to offer us a site - like a sculpture park.

"If people keep coming forward it might turn into a forest and not just a small line of trees," she said.

And how would Mr Wilkinson's parents feel about becoming a piece of art?

"I'm sure my mother is very pleased. My dad, given long enough to think about it, would come round as well," he said.

Emma's work will be shown, along with other final year students', at Camberwell Art College, from 27 June to 1 July.


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Watch more on the art made from ashes



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