Over the years, artist and metalworker John Greco has crafted unique works of metal in numerous forms: hoods and backsplashes for the kitchen, display cases, custom-made foot pedals for tattoo machines and –– quite notably –– a line of copper cremation urns.
A graduate of Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., Greco earned his bachelor’s of fine arts in art and design, with an emphasis on sculpture, in 1999. He did study metalworking in college, but it was not a major focus area for him. “I learned/self-taught myself most of what I do now,” he says, “plus a job in New Orleans was very influential.”
That influential job was lead light designer for Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights, a local producer of copper gaslights since 1945. “I do all of their custom work and any new product designing,” he says of his role with the company. “Many of the skills that I use now I’ve developed there.”
Urns by John Greco Urns have been showcased at art houses such as Barrister’s Gallery in New Orleans; the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore; and, just last month, the international Funeria exhibition, “Ashes to Art: Scattered,” in California. Away from the gallery scene, Greco uses his craftsman’s skills to create custom-made urns to house the cremains of loved ones or beloved family pets.
Greco says that when choosing an urn, there are many considerations.
“They have to decide what size they need,” he advises. “As a rule of thumb, 1 pound of body weight will produce slightly less than 1 cubic inch of remains.”
He adds that he doesn’t handle any human or pet remains himself.
“Typically my work is sought out by individuals who contact me directly through my Web site,” he says. “My urns are more of a high-end product that people specifically seek out as something different.
“My favorite part is designing a custom urn for someone that fits their personality and provides their family with something special and unique to memorialize their loved one in or something that they’ve designed for themselves to use in the future,” Greco continues. “Also, the technical obstacles that have to be overcome when building a three-dimensional object can be a challenge.”
As for his best-loved medium, copper, Greco felt copper work seemed to be an unfilled niche in the mortuary market. “Not only is copper the medium that I use in my other artistic interests, but, when doing my research for this business, I didn’t find any other people out there doing what I was doing,” Greco says. “The only other metal urns out there are machine-spun, mass-produced products.”
To avoid the look of such stock-grade receptacles, Greco takes care in crafting his designs, drawing inspiration from classic art, nature and lore.
“Many of my basic designs come from somewhat traditional urn styles, but much of my custom work –– a lot of my custom pieces have acid-etched images on them –– is influenced by designs from art nouveau patterns, plant imagery, Chinese geometrical patterns and even some work with traditional Chinese mythological imagery,” he says. “I’m currently working on a custom urn that is made from copper that was flooded in my studio from Hurricane Katrina. The copper has a really great patina on it and some waterlines from the various flood levels.”
Greco has a solo exhibition of his urns scheduled for February 2009 at Barrister’s Gallery in New Orleans, as well as a display with Prospect.1 this fall. Pieces of Greco’s fine artwork currently can be seen at Barrister’s Gallery, a space owned by Andy Antippas. To learn more about his work, or to see examples, visit johngrecoart.com or copperurns.com.