In a small, heart-shaped mold, Twyla Jensen delicately poured freshly mixed resin.
The viscous material moved like molasses. Jensen smoothed it with a wooden craft stick.
She added a splash of purple alcohol ink and a sprinkle of iridescent mica flakes for color and brilliance.
Then Jensen added the most important ó and priceless ó element to this symbol of love: Her fatherís ashes.
"This all got started because of losing Dad and wanting to do something that wonít break," Jensen said.
Human hearts are prone to shattering with the loss of a loved one. These indestructible Soul Spirit Treasures absolutely will not.
"If you use glass, it can break," Jensen said. "Thatís not cool, and itís also really heavy where this is not heavy. Resin is lightweight."
When their dad died, Jensen and her sister discussed taking pinches of his cremated remains, known as "cremains," and putting them into lockets.
As a lifelong artist who has worked with resin for three years, Jensen knew they could do something better and more permanent to honor their dadís memory.
"I had a little bit of my dadís ashes and put some into earrings and a pendant. When Iím wearing these, Iím constantly going like this,Ē Jensen said, her hand clutching the pendent on her chest.
Jensen, of Coeur d'Alene, started the Soul Spirit Treasures company to offer these precious keepsakes to others who would find comfort in having a memento infused with a loved one's ashes. She converts her kitchen into a studio where she lovingly renders cremains-infused resin hearts, stars, pyramids and other custom pieces that vary in price depending on the item. Earrings and pendants start at $74.
In the process of making each piece, which takes about an hour to craft and three days to set, Jensen finds peace that helps her heart as well.
"Itís my dad. Itís helping me heal a little bit," she said. ďItís very comforting to me. It feels cathartic. Because I now understand the pain, it feels now like I get to help touch somebody else, so it feels really good."
Mourning jewelry is a concept that dates at least to the Middle Ages. "Memento mori" (Latin for "remember death") and vanitas ("vanity") still-life artwork served as reminders of the inevitability of death, with images of skeletons and symbols such as hourglasses and extinguished candles. This became popular in the 17th century, according to Tate.org.uk, an organization dedicated to increasing the public's enjoyment and understanding of British art from the 16th century to present day.
A Huffpost.org article titled "The Forgotten, Macabre World of Mourning Jewelry" discusses how locks of hair were used in jewelry of grieving widows and others close to the deceased.
"Nothing too morbid ó no toes or fingernails were given out as funeral favors," the article reads. But if you were an immediate family member or close friend, you could have received a piece of mourning jewelry that likely had a piece of your late loved oneís hair."
During the Victorian era from 1837 to 1901, wives were widowed during the Civil War and Queen Victoria as well became a widow with the loss of Prince Albert in 1861. This thrust her into a deep mourning for many years. She was known to wear a locket of his hair around her neck. This practice caught on and jewelry containing hair to commemorate loved ones was not uncommon.
In the same way, those experiencing the grief of losing a loved one or a pet have the ability to create their own mourning jewelry through Jensen's work, although, she said, "it's not for everybody."
"For some people, it is bringing them comfort. It really depends on how you feel," she said. "Some people, itís not for them. Some people want to throw the ashes outside or in the lake or whatever they want to do, and thatís fine, we did that with most of my fatherís ashes. But for me, itís tangible. I can carry him around with me, I can touch it, talk to him."
It only takes a quarter of a teaspoon of cremains to complete each piece, and every custom item is handled with care. Jensen is also working on incorporating the ashes into paintings upon request.
"I put it in a little box when Iím done and I put a little ribbon around it. I do a little poem,Ē she said. "All of that helps."