BY DANIEL GAITAN | firstname.lastname@example.org
KENOSHA, Wis. — Nichole Valenta will soon possess her most cherished piece of jewelry, but it won’t be made of silver or gold.
Valenta, 28, is working with a Wisconsin artist to design a glass pendant made with ashes from her father, William Haddican. He died unexpectedly at age 53 this winter after hitting his head. The combination of heart arrhythmia and clearing snow were responsible for Haddican taking a fall.
Haddican was on life support for a week before doctors told Valenta’s family that he was brain dead from lack of oxygen to the brain.
“It’s tragic,” Valenta said. “We were best friends. I told him everything. We talked every day.”
Valenta, a mother of two, wants to keep her father close.
Scrolling through Facebook, she learned of a growing trend: grieving families choosing to incorporate the ashes of their loved ones into art, jewelry and tattoos. She came across the services of Nick Schmidt, who recently opened Kenosha’s Flamed Beginnings, 8207 22nd Ave. Schmidt happened to be the husband of a Facebook friend.
“We’re creating multiple necklace pendants for me, my mother and my kids,” Valenta said. She’s still deciding on which colors and shapes to use. “People think it’s really cool. They didn’t know there was stuff like that around here.”
Valenta plans to wear her pendant in public, and she hopes to inspire others to think outside the urn and casket.
“Cremation is a lot more popular,” Valenta said. “This is something you can keep with you. You can do so many different things nowadays than when my grandfather died 10 years ago.”
Schmidt, who’s been blowing glass for six years, said cremains are easy to work with, similar to powdered glass frit.
“I’ve had good success with it,” Schmidt said, adding that he experimented with his dog’s ashes before moving on to human cremains.
He also creates custom pipes, paperweights and vases without cremains, and is in the process of upgrading his studio.
Schmidt understands how emotional the process can be and strives to keep this special class of customers especially comfortable. He won’t take on more than he can handle, and he discourages people from shipping ashes. That’s partly because he enjoys chatting with his clients and doesn’t want ashes lost in transit.
“It connects you with people,” Schmidt said. “It’s such an important thing.”