For the last 10 months Sammamish resident Greg Dale and his wife, Christina, have ventured down a path they never imagined.
When his father faced a near death situation, Greg — a former developer and car salesman — was forced to think about a subject that never crossed his mind.
“Everything had switched to a celebration of life,” he said.
His father, who pulled out of his health scare in a Miami hospital, wished to become a part of an underwater memorial reef. Greg realized the reef would never work in Washington’s dark waters, but another business idea was born.
After entering a Made In Washington store, Greg saw glass hearts created by Seattle’s Glass Eye Studio. He approached studio ownership and a partnership quickly formed.
“They just laughed and said, ‘yeah, let’s do this,’” Greg said.
Greg launched Artful Ashes and Rainbow Bridge — separate companies focused on putting the ashes of loved relatives and pets inside blown glass hearts.
“I don’t think anybody really wants the box of ashes or urn of ashes but they keep them because they want to hold on to the memory,” Greg said. “That’s why we created something beautiful so you can hold on to the memory.”
The ashes are delivered in canisters to the Glass Eye Studio in Ballard. Artists then dip roughly a teaspoon of ash onto the glass, which is heated in 2,500 degree ovens. The pieces are formed into hearts and marked with identification so there is no confusion. Each heart costs $145.
Greg has held sessions once a month since opening where family members can come and view the ashes of their loved ones being permanently melded into the colorful glass.
As word of mouth spreads through social media and area funeral homes, Greg is set to increase the viewings to twice, then three times a month.
Greg, who advertises his services at a number of locations in Sammamish and Issaquah, said 40 percent of the population nationwide opts for cremation — up 20 percent from 15 years ago. He said 70 percent of Washington residents look to cremation and the number is expected to reach 80 percent by the end of the year.
“Funeral homes are too expensive,” Greg said. “It’s really kind of sad, nobody wants to go to a funeral. They’re looking for more a celebration of life type options and so that’s what we’re looking at.”
Cheryl Rieser from Santa Rosa, Calif., made the trip north to Seattle earlier this week to place the ashes of her cat, Satine, in three separate hearts.
“They have a beautiful, classy thing going on here,” said Rieser, who plans on expanding the hearts to the California market.
Greg and Christina said they couldn’t have found a more rewarding career path. They typically deliver all the glass hearts to the door of their clients — resulting in one unique emotional experience after another.
“When one customer a month hugs you, cries and thanks you that’s pretty good — it’s 95 percent of our customers,” Greg said. “It feels so valuable helping people heal.”
More information is available on the Artful Ashes website.
Artist Chris Steffans works on forming a glass heart earlier this week at Glass Eye Studio in Ballard.
Somboon Vatana forms a heart from glass.