WASILLA — Erica Phillipsen creates one-of-a-kind keepsakes made from the ashes of loved ones or pets through her growing passion project, Alaska Cremation Keepsakes.

Phillipsen recently participated in a question and answer interview to discuss her creative craft and how much it means to her and the people she shares it with.

Q: What are your creative passions and what does that look like in your everyday life?

I work a full-time job at a veterinary hospital and that’s like 10 hours a day. Then I concentrate on my cremation keepsake business… Just trying out different colors and get my technique down. I would say my main focus is probably going full time with my cremation keepsakes business at some point.”

Q: How did you get into that in the first place?

“I work at the animal hospital, so of course we deal with a lot of deaths and return of ashes when people get their pets cremated. I was introduced to it actually by my son’s cousin because he was doing glasswork, then my boyfriend got into it. He got a setup, a torch and everything for himself… I spent probably a couple of years watching him doing what he was doing. He got me my own torch and my own setup and he said, ‘you can do this too.’”

Q: How did that develop?

“I really concentrated on doing like pendants. I really wanted to get into the cremation aspect of it because I knew that people were doing that. I just started learning. I’m pretty much self-taught… I just started experimenting with all this different glass, just started doing thousands of pendants. I literally have a thousand probably that I’ve done. I mean, who else are you gonna learn? Doing the same thing,” she said with a laugh.

Q: How does the cremation keepsake work?

“The ashes are actually completely infused into the molten glass. So, they’re actually not coming out no matter what.”

Q: What does that look like now?

“Right now it’s more of a hobby than an actual business, kind of testing the waters over the years… This last holiday season for me was a huge, busy season. I got a lot of work and it was really spectacular… I just have to look at it as a hobby right now. But, in the future, I would love to have like, a teaching place for my glass.”

Q: It sounds like something that you’ve gotten really passionate about and really gets a spark going in your brain, right?

“Oh yeah. This is a medium I can work with… It’s very, very special. It’s a beautiful way to keep your loved one close to you. I really believe that. Every piece I do is a surprise to me. There’s a certain amount of chaos that’s involved… Every piece I do is different.”

Q: What do you think about that aspect of your craft?

“That is the best thing about it for me. I see the colors come out… and it’s just so amazing to me every time. I can’t even believe that I’m making beautiful things like this,” she said with a laugh.

Q: What’s it like making these keepsakes for people?

“There’s a lot of love that goes into everything. When these ashes come to me, they always have a story… This is aftercare, and I feel like it’s a really important thing to be able to do for people. There’s a lot of comfort from it… This is something that is so incredibly special and I feel really honored.”

Q: Are you planning to participate in this year’s Art on Fire event?

“Yeah. I’m gonna have a live demonstration, and I’ll do several of my shapes, and I can show people the process of it.”

Q: How important do you think it is to have groups like the Valley Arts Alliance creating opportunities like that for our local creative community?

“It’s very important. It’s a very big part of our culture… I know that Carmen [Summerfield] is kind of the fuel to the fire to that and I really, super appreciate everything that she does with the arts. Because, without her, we wouldn’t have an artistic community like that. There’s special things that she does like the plays that she puts on [Alaska Home Companion], the Wearable Art Fashion Show— I look forward to doing that again one day, that was super fun— and the Art on Fire show. I love it all.”

The Valley Arts Alliance Art on Fire Iron Pour Art Fest is scheduled for Saturday, June 26 at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry.

For more information about Alaska Cremation Keepsakes, visit the official Facebook page at facebook.com/AlaskaCremationKeepsakes.

To learn more about the Valley Arts Alliance, visit valleyartsalliance.com.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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