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When Somebody dies ... The final touch

Ashland woman's art adds personal identityto loved ones' memories

Like a lot of crafters, Bonnie-Jean Woodcock is handy with a glue gun, a paint brush and a pair of scissors.

But when the 55-year-old Ashland woman turns her attention to decoupage or tole-painting, the final projects are no mere knickknacks.

For a decade, Woodcock has specialized in decorated caskets and embellished urns, receptacles of death that transform ordinary containers into hand-crafted memorials.

It's the personal touch I give, explains Woodcock, who uses photographs and flowers, paint and glue to create one-of-a-kind resting places for adults, children, even pets.

To folks who think Woodcock's art might be macabre, she offers a series of snapshots. Here's a casket for a fisherman who drowned in the Rogue River, plain pine decorated with pressed flowers ' a snapshot of him and a favorite catch.

— There's an urn for the ashes of an old dachshund, painted with flowers and topped with a favorite blue ball.

Here's a casket for a 7-year-old cancer victim, a boy laid to rest in a box covered with vacation snapshots, sports photos, school pictures and the legend Families are Forever brushed on top.

Each of the dozen or so projects has been commissioned, says Woodcock, whose fees begin at &

36;1,000 per casket and &

36;50 per urn.

She first got the idea for painted caskets from an episode of Little House on the Prairie when she was a 12-year-old watching television.

I saw Charles Ingalls making a casket for a loved one and it was like, 'Wow, I'm going to make everybody's casket in my family,' Woodcock recalls.

When her father died years later, Woodcock got her first chance.

Daddy passed away in 1995 and I made his casket, Woodcock says. I found a plain pine box and I adorned it.

People who'd heard what Woodcock had done started asking for similar treatments, she says. Soon it became a business with a business name: ALH Suites.

It's for 'After Life Housing Suites,' explains Woodcock, who believes the name decreases potential discomfort about her products. 'Casket' is the scary word for people.

And Woodcock wants to make the experience anything but scary. She says her goal is to make choosing a casket or urn comfortable ' and affordable ' for everyone. She says she turned down a funeral home's offer to sell her caskets because it wanted to charge &

36;7,200 apiece for them.

The personal interaction with bereaved families makes her work rewarding, Woodcock says. One hunter's widow seemed to derive great comfort from planning a casket for her husband.

I found some fabric with moose, bear and deer printed on it, Woodcock recalls. She had me appliqu? pictures from the fabric. That was really pretty.

It takes about 30 hours to complete a typical casket, although Woodcock has completed one in 22 hours. Some jobs are rushed, but others allow plenty of time for art.

That was what Robin James, 55, and husband Scott Young, 50, wanted when they commissioned Woodcock to create an urn for the remains of their stillborn son. Teran James Young died at birth on. His parents had him cremated, but for a decade, they hadn't found the right receptacle.

I always wanted to have a nice urn for his ashes, James says. It just took awhile to think about it.

James met Woodcock, who's also a reflexologist, when she visited for an appointment. The pair came up with an urn design. Last spring, James gathered and pressed fresh wildflowers from the family's Ashland property. Then Woodcock applied the flowers to an urn of oak for a container that holds deep significance for Teran's parents.

I wanted to honor his memory in the earth with this urn. It's the only thing we have of him in the physical, James says. It's our belief that we are one with all. So the flowers and the wood and his spirit, it's all one.

For her part, Woodcock was particularly pleased with Teran's urn.

I just finished it, she says. It is absolutely beautiful.

Bonnie-Jean Woodcock holds an urn she decorated for the ashes of a baby. Woodcock says personal interaction with families makes her task rewarding. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven