Icons in Ash

By Heide Hatry

The art of the human image arose many millennia ago precisely for the purpose of keeping the dead among us, not just in memory, but in charged ceremonial objects that were intended to embody and preserve their spirits for their survivors and for the community as a whole. It was a way of integrating the inexplicable fact of death into life, of insuring that the dead and what they meant stayed present and abided with us.

The purpose of ICONS IN ASH is very emphatically to celebrate the dead, to keep them in our lives in a palpable way that at once honors them and touches us to our very core.

ICONS IN ASH memorial art works are made using a proprietary technique by means of which the cremated ashes of one’s beloved become a poignant, dignified, and enduring portrait. The art-work, in a way that hearkens to our most primordial human practices, is our beloved.


Artist Heide Hatry uses two techniques to create ICONS IN ASH memorial portraits.

The portraits of the Tredwell family (below) are Ash Transfer Portraits. In this technique, the ink of a photograph is transferred directly upon a pure and slightly uneven surface of ashes or an emulsion of ashes.

The artist generously created these portraits for the museum. Members of the Tredwell family were not cremated; the artist used substitute ash.

For the second technique, Mosaic Portraits (below, Marie Smith and Holly Barnes), the artist uses loose particles of the deceased’s cremains, first separated into different shades of grey and then embedded meticulously, one by one, into a surface of heated beeswax. After several delicate layers of application, a rich and textured likeness is achieved.




As the Roman philosopher, Cicero, wrote, “Philosophy is learning how to die.” If we survey the vast history of visual and literary art, we can equally say that “Art teaches us how to live with death.” It is in this spirit and in this conviction, that ICONS IN ASH has been conceived.

“Artist Heide Hatry understands the fundamental human desire to have the dead with us always – as image, as memory, as physical remnant. Her portraits made from the ashes of the deceased are haunting modern-day relics, poignant to any viewer, virtually sacred to those who knew and loved the departed. Each is a compelling likeness, a personal shrine.”
Richard Vine, Art Critic, Managing Editor, Art in America)


Heide Hatry is a contemporary fine artist represented by Ubu Gallery in New York City.
Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world

For more information
Heide Hatry and her work as an artist, click here. ICONS IN ASH memorial portraits, click here.

Her book, ICONS IN ASH, can be found here
ICONS IN ASH includes 17 of Hatry’s portraits which have been encountered and enhanced by the essays of 27 contemporary writers who explore the human relation to death in original and engaging meditations on the philosophy and psychology of death, death in art, religion, evolutionary thought, and social practice, the dead body, the relic, the phenomenon of mourning, and the notions of transformation and immortality.


Return to all Virtual Exhibitions