The range of unique urns is as wide as the artists who are making them! This week I talk with woodworker C.C. Boyce, who developed a two-part wooden urn suitable for the cremated remains of people or pets. They come in various woods and sizes, and there is space in the bottom for cremains and space on top for a plant. Hear how she got into this work and why one of her pieces might fit beautifully into your life.
Diane Hullet: Hi, I’m Diane Hullet. Welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today I’ve got a really interesting guest and she’s part of my third Thursday talking about body disposition kind of jag that I’ve been on for several months. So, hi
C.C. Boyce: Hi Diane. So nice to see you. Well,
Diane Hullet: this is fun. So Cece and I met over Instagram basically, and Cece Boyce is a woodworker working out of Los Angeles.
Right. Maybe, maybe you won’t even be more specific about which part. And you know, Cece’s got a really beautiful small studio and a very specific thing that she does, but I think it’s such a beautiful solution for what to do with. Cremated remains or acclimated remains. So tell us, introduce yourself, Cece, tell us about
C.C. Boyce: yourself.
So, I’m Cece. I live here in Los Angeles downtown Los Angeles. I live and work both in downtown Los Angeles, which is really nice because I can ride my bike to work every day in such a car, central City. It’s really nice. To be able to do that. And yeah, I make cremation earns that double as decorative planters.
So when somebody asks me like, oh, you’re a woodworker, what do you make? I say, cremation earns. And then I immediately have to pull up my Instagram and show them, but not what you think you know. And cuz they kind of give you a face and you have to say, oh, but, but they’re geometric and they have a plant on top and they don’t look like urns.
And then they go, oh, okay. Yeah. Well, cool, cool. What a great idea.
Diane Hullet: Right, right. Interesting. Well, how did you like I, I was drawn to them on Instagram when I saw them cuz of just these beautiful, warm, like you said, kind of offset geometric shapes. How did you get into woodworking? Like that’s not necessarily a career, everybody launches
C.C. Boyce: into.
Well, my dad was a woodworker and I grew up doing that. We had a, a wood shop in the basement of our house, so I grew up making things. My dad made a lot of stuff in our house, which I assisted him on, and, you know, throughout my life and through college, I was always the one, like making stuff. I was the one putting up shelves or making my own bed.
So I, I was doing that kind of my whole life. I didn’t really start doing it as a career until about, 2013. I had come to Los Angeles and I was an actor. I did a lot of commercials and voiceovers, and I had a lot of success with that. Then that kind of started to fade out and not be so enjoyable for me.
And so I went back to school for woodworking here in California. I went to a community college that has a really great shop and a really great program at El Camino College, and just started making stuff there. And when I
Diane Hullet: digress, digress into that for a moment. Sure. Like what? Oh, sure. They just have more tools than you had access to before or.
Did they, were they providing like ideas for projects or were you bringing your creativity to them and saying, how do I execute this?
C.C. Boyce: Yeah, exactly. I would take what I wanted to make and then I would learn the skills necessary to make that thing. So it’s kind of a different. Process. Some, some schools say, okay, first you’re gonna make this and then you’re gonna make this, and then you’re gonna make this.
This program was more like, what do you wanna make? Because some people are coming in with different skillsets. Some people had been around big machines like I had, and were very comfortable around stuff like that. Some people were very, very new and we’re using how to use a table saw for the first time, or, you know, the band saw for the first time.
And so that’s what really. Direct me towards that program because I didn’t wanna start out, you know, making a cutting board or I didn’t wanna start making, you know, something that I didn’t need. That’s part of my philosophy, you know, about the fact that I use urban lumber and I try to use every. Part of, of the piece of lumber with very little waste.
I don’t like creating waste, and I don’t, and, and also woodworkers become hoarders because we can never throw in a piece of good wood away. And so I didn’t wanna make something that wasn’t gonna be used. I didn’t wanna make something that was just going to, you know, be thrown away or sent on a shelf.
I wanted to make something that was useful to me. And, and that program allowed me to do that, which I was really happy
Diane Hullet: about. That sounds amazing. I, I’m struck by sewing people have a similar kind of hoarding problem. Yes. I make stuff with fabric. And a friend of mine and I were laughing the other day cuz she read this quote or maybe she heard it on a podcast where basically they said the materials that you hoard are like, clutter is basically potential projects.
Yes. Not gonna actually do the project. Get rid of the clutter and let you know, let it be someone else’s treasure to find, cuz you’re. Holding onto this fabric you’re never gonna use, so. Right, right. I could totally see that with woodworkers too. It’s like, well, I cut down this tree in my yard and I’ve just gotta hang onto the X, Y, Z random slabs.
C.C. Boyce: Yeah. Well, the worst thing is when I do use a piece that I’ve been holding on for three years or four years, and I’m like, see, I, I, I’m justified. I’m justified in using this. See, I knew I was going to use
Diane Hullet: this. It does. It rationalizes the clutter, doesn’t it? Say, say more about what’s urban
C.C. Boyce: wood. So urban wood is, it’s different than reclaimed.
They call it rescued wood. So I work with a couple lumberyards here in Los Angeles and in Anaheim that find trees that either, you know, it might be something that’s going to be demolished, or s tree that’s sick, a tree that fell down in a storm, something like that. A tree that would have usually just been gone in the chipper and, and in the landfill, these lumber companies.
Take those pieces, take those trees, cut them up, dry them, and sell them to woodworkers. So it’s trees that. Would’ve been nothing now made into something thanks to their efforts. And so they reclaimed is wood that has been used before and salvaged. But I don’t use like, like
Diane Hullet: bleacher seats or a barn or something like that.
This is more like a tree that was gonna get chipped and instead they’ve made it useful. Exactly. Right. That’s that’s so neat.
C.C. Boyce: And it, it allows me to work with a lot of different woods too that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. California has some really cool woods, so You know, it’s in shorter supply, but I am able to work with California Sycamore or Sweet Gum or Elm.
These are usually woods that you can’t find at, at a commercial lumber yard. So it’s really allowed me to experiment and learn about new trees and learn about different species and how they, how to work with them. Which ones look good with which ones? Because with the urns, they. The bottom and the top are different colors.
So finding out, oh, Elm can come in kind of three or four different shades and what do I use with this one? You know? So it’s, it’s actually. Creative challenge for me as well to find what’s gonna look good with this particular wood.
Diane Hullet: Right. Like a pairing process. I think that was your first video that I saw on Instagram.
Mm-hmm. Was you were saying, how do I choose, how do I choose what pieces of wood to go together? And you were putting them together and showing like, Well, this is okay, but it doesn’t really sing and this one and that really doesn’t work. And then a third color and texture and the, the way the lines of the wood work together, you were like, this is it.
This one’s good. Right? Yeah. So it was really, I loved that little Instagram video of just kind of seeing your process as an artist of why you chose what you chose. Okay. So you get these new skills. You go to this community college woodworking program. But how did you come to earns?
C.C. Boyce: So that was a few years later.
I was doing mostly custom work. I was making like tables for restaurants and, and, and custom stuff for people. And a friend of mine’s father had passed away and. They were dispersing the Ashes, monks family members. And at the time I made these geometric planters that just held like kind of a small succulent.
They were, again, pieces of wood that I would glue together that were left over for my custom projects because I didn’t want to waste them and I didn’t want to become a hoarder, so I would just glue pieces together and make different shapes out of them. They liked those. Planters. So they were like, can you just make us a, a few of those and, and put an extra hole in it and we’ll, we’ll stuff the ashes inside?
And I said, no, no, let me, let me see if I can design something for you. Let me, let me, this sounds like a cool project. So I fiddled with it for a while and I end up making this, this, this shape. It’s actually this shape. This was the, this was the first shape and I put it up on Instagram. And it got a big response from the death care community.
Where can I get this? What is this? And, you know, something that I thought was just gonna be a one-off ended up being a whole new career. And so I did about a year of diving into, you know, talking to death doulas and pet morticians and, you know, touring a crematory to see like, oh, how much. Remains is a human body.
And so finding the different sizes that I needed for pets and for people, and then finding shapes that would work with, with those, with that sizing. So there’s like small, medium, large for people who are either dispersing the ashes amongst family members or you know, or pets. And so yeah, that took me about a year to, you know, for prototyping and research and I really got into it.
I was really surprisingly like, wow, this is really interesting. And again, a design challenge because you have something very specific that you need to hold, you need to hold it securely, and it needs to be in the right proportion. And it needs to be, you know, in an interesting shape. So it was, it was quite a challenge that I really loved doing.
I’ve, I’ve been trying to find another, cuz right now the large has only come in one shape and I’ve been trying to determine a, another shape for the large, for about a year now, like trying like different shapes and it’s, and nothing has been quite right. So it is a very time consuming thing. That’s so
Diane Hullet: neat.
And yours are, I mean, is that a rambus, is that what we’d call that?
C.C. Boyce: I guess? I guess like some of them are like, yeah, Rambus, some of are like a trapezoid. Trapezoid, maybe It’s a trapezoid. Yeah. But they’re all, like you said before, asymmetrical. So nothing is, nothing is perfectly symmetric. And then I have these that are kind of, you know they’re, it’s triangular, but it’s, it’s inspired by, Those pyramids with the top chopped off.
So this is, you know, kind of again, like in that theme of, of burial or death, but, you know, kind of up updating it, making it smaller in that way. Tell us
Diane Hullet: about the, how the top attaches to the bottom.
C.C. Boyce: So they’re attached by rare earth magnets. So the, they’re, they’re really strong, as you can see. They’re like very, so I hide the magnets, so I drill the, the holes into, into the bottom.
And then I put the magnets in there, and then I make plugs from the same piece of wood that I use. So they’re hidden so you don’t see them. And then and then do the same thing for, for the top. And then they’re held together so they, if it’s, you know, if it falls over, it’s not going to. Open up, if it falls off of the shelf under the floor, obviously it’s, it’s gonna maybe, yeah.
But I, I always advise people and I provide a muslin bag again, kind of with, you know, muslin shroud. Kind of keeping with that, with that theme. I provide a muslin bag with all of the urns to keep the remains in, just to keep them extra secure. And it looks nicer, I think. Yeah. Yeah. In
Diane Hullet: the urn than the plastic bag that you get.
A little tidier. Yeah. A little tidier. Mm-hmm. And, and one of those is large enough to put remains in. It does seem, yeah. Tiny. I mean, not tiny, but like, it seems like it’d be a little tight.
C.C. Boyce: Yeah. This one is for a pet, or it could be like for an infant. The one that’s for a person would be this guy. I see. Oh
Diane Hullet: yeah, I,
C.C. Boyce: so that is bigger.
Yeah. So this one is built differently. Oh, so is built, that’s built like a box. So the small ones are a piece of wood that has a hole drilled in the middle, but the mediums and the larges are, are built like a box. So,
Diane Hullet: yes. Got it. So it’s a box with a lid that goes on top of
C.C. Boyce: those. Same. Right. Magnets.
Right. And then that’s where the plant goes. Right there. How did you
Diane Hullet: come up with the idea of putting a plant in the top? And these are called plant urns, right? Plant. And you’ve got that, like, you’ve got that like tmd.
C.C. Boyce: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s a little on the nose. I know, but I, I, I, friend of mine who is a writer, it was like, we gotta find a different name for these.
It’s two on the nose. I said, okay, fine. Think of something and she couldn’t, she’s like, yeah, you’re right. No, that’s the best name. It’s good. It’s good. Yeah. I think it, it stemmed from my, the planters that I was making before that were the cutoffs of my other projects. They’re kind of just an extension of those.
And obviously these plants, the holes for these plants are, are larger than the other ones. Before. The other ones were like, like a T light holder, but this is, you know, this is about three. Inches in diameter and two, two and a half inches tall. So you can fit a really good size plant in there. I just, I just bought one from the Flower Mart today to kind of show you.
That you can have a really, you know, decent sized plants in there. Yeah.
Diane Hullet: I imagine you have to be a little careful with the watering component.
C.C. Boyce: Yes, yes. That’s exactly right. I, I, what I usually do is I take a a squirt bottle and just kind of squirt either you can take the, the cup out to water if you want, but not everybody wants to do that.
So I just do a square bottle right at the base, and that way it doesn’t. Overflow. Right.
Diane Hullet: You don’t wanna dump in water and overflow. But I can see it is protected even if it did overflow. It’s not like it’s going down into the lower half.
C.C. Boyce: Exactly. Exactly. Well, I love, I mean, I’ve
Diane Hullet: seen so many unique urns that are like beautiful handshake ceramic vessels or, you know, people are making incredible blown glass now, which is per se, but but I think yours is just especially earthy and warm and.
The fact that you can put a plant in the top really personalizes it. Cuz I can imagine you, you know, like I, for example, have a huge aloe plant and I’m like, well wouldn’t it be cool if everybody got a little bit of ashes and an aloe plant from my, you know, my aloe plant or a jade plant or some other kind of succulent that Multiplies so easily, like hens and chicks.
C.C. Boyce: Yeah, actually that’s happened a lot. I’ve had people I had one family who’s the decedent was a bo, a master bonsai guy. He had tons and they sent me some pictures of the bonsai trees. So they put one of his bonai in there, which was really, really cool. And I get a lot of messages from people saying My mom was a gardener, or my dad was an outdoorsman.
And so this is just perfect for him. It’s really a nice. Reminder of that person without being a painful, you know, reminder. You know, sometimes if you look at something, maybe that’s traditionally an urn that you’re reminded of, that’s what it is. Do you know what I mean? Like, I have a friend who keeps a portion of her friend.
In, in one of the urns. And I was really curious. I, I said, so when you water the plant, do you always know it’s David in there? Do you always, and she said, about half and half. She said, sometimes I’m just watering a plant. And sometimes I remember that David is in there. And, and I was like, that’s beautiful.
That’s great. I think that that’s is, I think exactly what, what I wanted. Right. Right.
Diane Hullet: I I, it’s so fun to hear you say that you’re kind of experimenting with other shapes, but this continues to, to be the one that feels like your trademark shape. Mm-hmm. And yeah. What shapes are there that you can do with wood?
Have you ever thought about doing one of those? That’s like a what are those knots on a tree called when the tree grows and then it’s got a big bump. Yeah,
C.C. Boyce: I guess, yeah. It’s just a knot. Yeah. Yeah. Uhhuh
Diane Hullet: like, I can imagine you could almost take one of those and hollow it out or something, but that’s specific.
C.C. Boyce: Well, yeah, that would be, I think, turning. So that would be like on a lathe. And so there are beautiful, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful, beautiful urns of, of people making them and turning them on the lathe, but that, that’s a whole different skill. That whole different thing. I do not have. I’ve tried turning and it is, Not easy.
Diane Hullet: It’s harder than you’d think. Yeah. Yeah. I love it. Here I am. Like coming up with ideas would work. Like what do I know? Oh, that’s great. Well, what what other, what do you think experiences have, you know, you talked about kind of having this comfort with end of life or as you got into the kind of positive death movement, you found that familiar or comfortable, like you weren’t put off by it.
Mm-hmm. What, what do you think has brought that, brought you to that in your life?
C.C. Boyce: Well, in my life there, I’ve been no stranger to death. My first funeral was when I was five. My great-grandmother, Boha, she lived to be 101. She died when I was, when I was five. And I don’t know why or how, but there’s been a lot of death in my family and in my my friend group.
So I’ve never been squeaked out by desks. I’ve never Had to shy away from it. And so I’m very comfortable when people are expressing grief and I know a lot of people sometimes get uncomfortable with some if someone’s crying or if someone’s grieving, but I’m very comfortable just sitting in it and, you know, allowing them that space or allowing myself that space to grieve.
And so I think I really, I don’t think it’s the reason I went into making earns, but I do think it’s the reason I. Was so comfortable doing it so quickly. And why coming into the death care space, you know, being so welcomed into that, you know, death care workers are very, very special people, and so being welcomed into that and, and people being so gracious with their time and with their knowledge, to me was, was just such a wonderful experience.
And so I think that comfortability. That’s a word that comfortableness that I have with death really allows me to be able to make these and also, you know, the customer service part of it where either, you know, people want to show me pictures of, of their loved ones or share stories with me or you know, they’re grieving.
So maybe. Read everything on the website and so I have to make some changes or, you know, not everyone is, I say half and half of my clients are people who’ve had their ashes for a long time and now have found my urns and want to use them. Or someone whose loved one has just passed away very recently, so they’re gonna be in a little bit of a different mind space than somebody just buying some makeup or socks online.
And so I’m very aware of that. I’m very, and because of my history with deaths, I’m very aware of I guess I have more empathy of. What people are going through. And I never forget it. I never forget what it is that I’m doing. I never, when I’m in the wood shop, I don’t, it’s not like I’m just churning these out.
First of all, they take a long time to make, but also it’s not just like, oh God, I gotta get in the wood shop. It’s like, oh no, I’m making this. Custom piece for this person because it’s for their dog and they kind of made it look like their dog, or it’s for this person’s dad who was a gardener or was a woodworker.
I love, I love those ones in particular. So I never, yeah, I never forget what these are and what an emotional and personal choice this is to be someone’s final resting place. That’s a big deal, as you know. And. I’m just, yeah, I think it’s a real honor to, to do that for people.
Diane Hullet: That’s, that’s so beautiful.
Cici. Do you, do you typically make them custom or do you have some on
C.C. Boyce: hand? I have some on hand. Yeah. So I have ready to ship ones cuz sometimes people need them right away. And so those ship next business day. And so I have like the, again, like small, medium, large, and those are made. Primarily from pieces of wood that I might not be able to access all of the time.
So it’s a piece of spalted wood, it’s a piece of, you know, really highly figured wood or, or something like that. So I can’t, I’m not able to replicate it. So I put that in as like kind of a one-off in the, in the ready to ship.
Diane Hullet: Mm-hmm. So it’s like, if you want that one, there it is, but Exactly. I can do one of these more familiar
C.C. Boyce: pieces.
Yeah, exactly. And so then I also have. The made to order ones. So those ones are made from wood that is very available and it’s going to look very, you know, of course every piece of wood is different, but it’s gonna look very similar to the picture. And then I also do custom pieces. So if somebody sees something on my Instagram or they see a past piece on, on my, on my site.
Or they want to work with, you know, I’ve, I’ve done this where I’ve gotten pieces of wood that I don’t usually work with. I’ve, you know, been able to source different woods for people because they, this wood was very special to this person. Or they have a lot of furniture that’s, that’s this wood. So that’s part of the custom process too.
So it’s the same shapes that I usually, that I make, but the wood choice is, is
Diane Hullet: different. That makes so much sense. I, I appreciate what you’re saying about as you work on it, you’re aware of. Either who you’re working it for or the family or just the whole context, even if it’s a generic quote unquote one.
And I, right. I’ve had that experience making quilts where if I know who I’m making a quilt for, there’s just some quality of like, while I’m sewing these, all these straight lines, they’re just in my. In my consciousness, you know, I’m just sort of aware that this quilt is for so and so, and I, I hold that in a slightly different way, and I think it really informs the creativity moving through, and it’s such a beautiful way.
And I don’t know, I like to think it’s like cooking with love, you know? It’s like sewing with love, woodworking with love. Yeah.
C.C. Boyce: Exactly. Yeah. Very well said.
Diane Hullet: Well, thanks so much, Cici. This is such a really unique possibility for people to consider. So you can find out more about Cici’s email@example.com.
You can look up things there. And again, it’s C period. C period, Boyce Cici, Boyce, and you can find out more about the work I do at Diane. Not at Diane at Best life. Best death.com. Any final things you wanna say,
C.C. Boyce: Cici? Oh, just thank you so much. This has been such an honor and I love talking about them and if if anybody wants to contact me, they can find me, like you said, voice studio.com.
And I’m very happy to talk to people. I do zooms with people to show them, cuz sometimes it helps to see them, you know, in real life, like you’re seeing them right now. It’s a little bit of a different experience than seeing them on photos. And so I’m, I’m very happy to do that too, to connect with people.
Diane Hullet: Awesome. Well, thanks again, Cici. You’ve been listening to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Thanks for tuning in.