MARQUETTE — When you think of ceramics, you probably envision pots, vases, or mugs.
Ann Russ is a ceramicist who owns her own studio on Baraga Avenue in Marquette. She’s created a name for herself by making a unique type of ceramic—urns.
“It feels like such an honor for me to make vessels, knowing that they’re intended to hold the remains of someone who is loved and existed upon the earth. That just feels so rich to me.”
It all started for Ann somewhat unintentionally. While taking a ceramics class at Northern Michigan University, she was assigned to make something of personal significance. Ann lightheartedly decided to make herself a memorial urn. She didn’t realize it at the time, but that assignment would lead her to not only her career, but her passion.
“The urn that I ended up making for myself is very architectural–looking,” said Ann. “It has six sides, a pointed roof, cutouts in the roof, and a symbol that I carved in the front of an image that came to me in a dream. It sits in my home on a shelf and I see it every day. So it’s kind of a focal point for me in realizing that life is short and to savor each moment.”
“It became a focus and a direction and a passion for my work,” Ann explained. “I didn’t intend to become an urn maker and it never even occurred to me. Rather, I think that it’s work that claimed me.”
Since then, Ann has been using that passion and her skills to create personalized urns, reliquaries, and spirit bowls in memoriam of those who have passed away.
Ann sees the work that she does as a special honor. Her dedication to this craft can be seen clearly in the personal touches she adds to each piece she makes.
“I feel that it’s really sacred work to make vessels that are intended to hold the remains of someone who was loved and existed upon the earth,” said Ann. “And I love the idea of offering people in our community options to have something that is handmade with intention versus mass–produced and non–descriptive and without human touch.”
Certain urns include added compartments or pieces that can be interacted with. This adds an extra personal element to the urns that can help a family member who is grieving.
“What I hope to invite with my work is for people to interact with the urn in some way,” said Ann. “For example, some of the urns I make have little bowls, and people can write handwritten messages, put them in the bowl, and set them on fire with the idea that it would reach the spirit of their loved one. Or they can use it for incense or to hold an object that’s of special significance for them. But it’s really inviting that opportunity for people to personalize and create for themselves an end–of–life ceremony or ritual that is meaningful for them, and I think that helps with their grieving process and healing.”
When asked if doing work that is so centered around the end of life ever begins to feel heavy, Ann said she views her work as a reminder to enjoy each moment life gives her.
“It’s such a joy for me to be doing this work because I’m reminded about just savoring every day,” Ann said. “And because this work is so connected for me in terms of my passion and my love of people, it’s just a source of joy.”
To learn more about Ann Russ Ceramics or to view some of Ann’s work, visit her website.