Andy P. Antippas       Barristers Gallery

oro Barrister's Gallery, New Orleans, outsider art, visionary art

2331 St. Claude Ave and Spain, New Orleans, LA 70113  •  504-710-4506   •   Tues-Sat 11am-5pm  • Directions













2331 St. Claude Ave & Spain
New Orleans, LA 70117  504-710-4506 
Tues-Sat 11am-5pm




by Andy P. Antippas

  This is an invitation to participate in an exhibition at Barrister’s 

called Hydriotaphia: Artists Design Their Own Funeral Urns. The

exhibit is set for February 12 thru March 26, 2005. You may, of course,

literally, make an urn or an "urn"...freestanding or for the wall, you

can paint or assemble your urn on a surface, or depict it in any other

way you choose—in any medium. The work can be brought to the

gallery as soon as you complete it, but no later than the last week

of January. There are only a limited number of pedestals available

in the gallery, so please help solve any special exhibition problems

your piece may present.  Dan Teague and I will "curate"—but only

in the original, and more appropriate, ecclesiastical sense of the term.  

Even though this invitation is self-explanatory, as always, when

I set out to organize an extensive annual group show, I feel the

need to explain the impetus for the idea and theme for that exhibit--

with the expectation that, as an artist, you will be able to

re-imagine that idea.

In 1658, Sir Thomas Browne, published an essay entitled  

"Hydriotaphia, Urne Buriall, or A Discourse of the Sepulchrall

Urnes lately found in Norfolk."
In 1656, Browne, a well-known,

writer, scholar, antiquarian and physician practicing in nearby

Norwich, was presented with one of the 40 or so excavated funeral

urns for his inspection.  The resulting "Discourse," it is agreed, is

one of the finest prose meditations on the fugitiveness of life,

the utter certainty of death, and our overwhelming fear of oblivion

written in any language.

When I say "written," I’m using that term loosely: more architectural

terms would be  appropriate---the essay is built, constructed, erected.

Literary critics invariably, but feebly, describe his convoluted and

dense style as "baroque"---it is simultaneously Gothic, Romantic,

Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Surreal, Modern, and Post-Modern.

The only thing it is not is Minimalist: where one or two words would

do, Browne finds five, and if there are only four available, he invents

one out of Greek or Latin. The style is so remarkable that it has been

suggested that he dipped into the opium in his medicine cabinet---that

would certainly explain why hallucinatory-brained men like Coleridge,

Poe and Borges admired Browne’s writing so much.

The governing idea in "Hydriotaphia," that all the burial customs  and

funeral ceremonies he surveys of, among others, the Egyptians, the

Greeks, and the Romans, up to his own time, are all merely examples of

our vain, pointless efforts to immortalize the identity of the dead. The

tone of the essay is elegiac, solemn, melancholic, and very Christian:

when he contemplates the urn and its contents before him, with its ashes,

bits of charred bones, and a few eroded, personal objects, he is struck

by the irony that despite the efforts to preserve the identity of the cremated

person, there is no way to know anything about the character or personality

of the interred. (The irony is compounded, inadvertently, because Browne

thought the urns were Roman, when in fact they were Saxon.) Browne

says there are many seemingly unanswerable questions about antiquity that

we can make intelligent guesses about, even as to when the interred died,

but not about the actual identity or quality of the person reduced to those

ashes and bones:

  What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he 

hid among women, though puzzling Questions, are not beyond all

conjecture. What time the persons of these Ossuaries entered the

famous Nations of the dead, and slept with Princes and Consellors,

might admit a wide solution. But who were the proprietaries of these

bones, or what bodies these ashes made up, were a question

above Antiquarism. 

  Herostratas lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost 

lost that built it...Who knows whether the best of men be known?

Or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot than any

that stand remembered in the known account of time?  

Urne-Buriall, V


Browne’s point, of course, is that God has promised immortality for our

resurrected souls, He has not promised immortality for us, for our identities:

pyramids turn to sand, monuments and mausoleums to dust, and inscriptions

on urns erode---all are displays of human vain-glory. Browne, a neo-Platonical,

alchemical, meta-physical Christian, says we live eternally by the "pure flame"

(U-B, V) within us, not by the huge ceremonial fire that cremates us. Browne

implies an analogy: "…the common forms [of the urns] with necks was a

proper figure, making our last bed like our first..." (U-B, II) The human body

is an earthen vessel created by God the Potter-Artist within which the soul is

contained---the funeral urn is an earthen vessel created by a nameless potter

in which our ashes are contained; the earthen body releases the human soul

into immortality---the funeral urn mixes the ashes with dirt---anonymous,

no fame, no immortality. Worse yet, we could be "knav’d out of our graves,

to have our sculs made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes." (U-B, III)
Who better than an Earthly Artist then to design his own funeral urn to

insure his own immortality? If it is possible to make the metaphorical

argument that every significant work of art is a kind of funeral urn, (because

the artists have "buried themselves" in their work or "put everything of themselves"

into their work), it would then follow that the quintessential artist’s creation

would be his own funeral urn or "urn." By the choice of shape, material, design,

the personal sentiments outside the urn and the personal things mixed in with

their ashes, etc., etc., an artist could create something that would be an eternal

time capsule, a hieroglyph decipherable for all eternity speaking volumes in

behalf of their ashes---how and where they grew up, why they became artists,

who they hated and loved, what was important to them, if they voted for

Kerry or Bush or Nader.

This is a grave undertaking, but I know your good humor will shine through 

the gloom. Let’s not forget the "fun" in funeral.



"The process of reducing human remains to its basic elements in the form 

of bone fragments through flame, heat, and vaporization."


With the exception for periods of plague and the battlefield, it should

not be surprising that the advent of various versions of Doctor Browne’s

Christianity brought a halt, for two thousand years, to the common disposition

of bodies on top of blazing wooden funeral pyres which left nothing but coals---

a process as old as the early Stone Age. It was a symbolic way of honoring the

dead and also a reassuring way of being certain that embodied spirits would not

come back to haunt the living. While "inhumation," corpse embalming, and

coffin and mausoleum burial remains the overwhelming funeral preference,

in relatively modern times interest in cremation has been rekindled. (Unquestionably,

the Nazi’s use of cremation ovens cast a heavy pall on this resurgent interest.)

The Brunetti cremation chamber, which made use of an even heat that kept

flames away from the body, was first shown at the 1873 Vienna Exposition.

Almost immediately cremation societies developed in the United States and

Europe. By 1875-76, the first crematories were established in England, Germany,

and the United States (Pennsylvania). The significant thing about cremation is that

one avoids the Big Death Business—in New Orleans, that’s Stewart Enterprises.  

Presently, the body is first placed in either a cardboard or wooden

casket made specifically for cremation. An alternative is a cardboard box

which fits into a "rental" traditional-looking casket, which is removed

just before cremation.

The "retort," the chamber within the cremation oven, is lined with heat

retaining bricks. The propane or natural gas burns at between 1400° F to 2100º F.

After two hours all that remains are ashes and scorched bone. One pound of live

weight yields one cubic inch of ash; for example, a 175lb person would fill an

urn 11" high and about 8" in circumference---or a shoebox. Everything is

swept into a grinder leaving the final ash and tiny bone fragments (collectively

called, "cremins"---although many reject the ugly term) representing about 5%

of the original body weight.  The chemistry of the ashes includes mostly Phosphate,

Calcium, Sulfate, Potassium, and Chloride, Carbonate, and Oxide compounds.  


In 1913, in the U. S., 52 crematories assisted in over 10,000 cremations;

in 2003, hundreds more crematories facilitated 693,742 cremations---28.63%

of the total deaths. By 2010, it is projected the number of Americans choosing

cremation will rise to 35.07%, and by 2030, 50%.  In Canada, it was close to

50% in 2000.  In 2002, there were 5,135 cremations in Louisiana, 12.13% of

all the deaths; Alabama was the lowest, 4.44%, Nevada, the highest, 60.69%.

Disposition of the ashes

Once the ashes are collected in the urn, there are various options. The most

recent analysis available from the Cremation Association of North America

is from 1996, when there were a total of 492,434 cremations.  (78% placed

the remains in urns.)

1. Delivered to the cemetery, 40.7%.                                                                                     

Of these, 25.6% (51,308) the urns and their contents were placed in

the cemetery’s columbarium ("dove cote"---a wall with niches);

the rest were either buried or scattered in a designated area of the cemetery.

2. Taken home, 35.8%--(for the mantle or closet)

3. Scattered, 17.8%--(land, 27%, water,72.7%)

4. Not picked up, 5.7%
--(the crematorium is legally responsible to store them)

Of this 1996 group, the mean age of the cremated was 69.4 years old;

Female 51.9%, Male 48.1%; 88% of total were Caucasians, 3% Hispanics,

3% Asians; 6% African Americans. As to religious affiliation: 58% Protestant,

26% Catholic, 11% Buddhist, 3% Jewish, 2% Hindu. Only Islam,

Zoroastrianism, Orthodox Judaism, and Russian and Greek Orthodoxy

prohibit cremation; the Catholic Church requires the urn to be buried.

Of this same group, 67% had no religious memorial service before

cremation, 56.3% had no service afterwards; only 24% had ceremonies

before and after the cremation.

Here are some examples of additional options you can request of your friends:

The Eternally Yours Company will paint your ashes into a painting,

cost, $350-$550,---they are probably more trustworthy than your fellow

painters who might put you in a clown painting.  

Ed Headrick (d. 2003), the inventor of the Frisbee, had himself molded into one.

Marvel Comics editor and creator of Capt. America, Mark Gruenwald

(d. 1996)
had his ashes mixed into the ink used to print a special edition

poster of the "Squadron Supreme."

Reverend Mad Jack, a tattoo artist who worked out of Chicago, mixed

ashes into his ink to make memorial tattoos.

Celestis, a Soviet Corporation, will send one gram ($995) or seven

grams ($5,300) of ashes into low orbit. (Gene Roddenberry and Timothy

Leary were put into space orbit in September, 1999 aboard a U. S. satellite.

NASA put one once of astronomer Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes onto the

Lunar Prospector which crashed into the moon on July 31, 1999. He is,

therefore, the first human to be buried on another planet.)

Life Gems Company will extract the carbon from your ashes and

compress a diamond (.25 carat is about $2,000---a maximum of 3

carats is possible.)

Eternal Reefs Company will mix your ashes with cement and add

you to a "community reef" off the coast of Georgia ($1,500 to $5,000).

Memory Glass makes personalized, hand-blown glass sculpture and

paperweights with your ashes suspended within.

A search will reveal that there are companies prepared to make

agricultural implements, ritual objects, and necklaces out of your ashes---

one of my favorites is a teddy bear with a Velcro pocket in its back

to hold "a velveteen bag with your remains." There are companies

which sell urns made of every possible material, from split bamboo,

cardboard, wood, marble to bronze. Some are biodegradable and

ideal for forest burial.

 Andy P. Antippas
                                                                 Barrister’s Gallery

Some of the more amusing urn peddling sites, in addition

to the companies listed above:

Re: Sir Thomas and "Urne-Buriall"
The complete essay is readily available on line.  
For example: 

On-line essays on Browne I browsed:
Kevin Faulkner. "Scintillae marginila: Sparkling margins…." (2002)

“Hydriotaphia or Urne-Buriall.”

Adam H. Kitzes."Hydriotaphia, 'The sensible rhetoric of the dead' " (2002)

"Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial",_Urn_Burial