When Debby Fitzhugh, of Topeka, lost her cat Lion King in 2012, she lost her "best bud."
Distraught, Fitzhugh said, she had the 22-year-old cat cremated and kept several of his toys as keepsakes.
The following Christmas, Fitzhugh was surprised when her daughter, Leandra Monreal, presented her with a glass sun catcher made with Lion King's ashes.
"It's a real nice gesture, and to have something like that to remember him… " Fitzhugh paused. "It caught me off guard."
Cremation ashes glasswork
Vaughn Evans and his wife, Aly, of Linwood, have created a business where people can send him ashes of deceased relatives and pets and he can create glass art incorporating the ashes.
To have the sun catcher created, Monreal reached out to Vaughn and Aly Evans of Linwood. For the past several years the couple has operated cremationmarbles.com, a small art business incorporating the cremated ashes of lost friends, family members and beloved pets into glass art.
Vaughn Evans began creating glass beads and marbles when he was 16. From there, it quickly turned into a full-time passion.
The 32-year-old father of two said sometime around 2009, a curious and prospective client picked up one of his business cards at an art display and called him asking if he would be willing to work cremated ashes into his art.
"I did it, it came out really good, and I did a blog post on it," he said. "And then I started hearing from people around the country, around the world."
With a bit of practice, Evans was able to incorporate his own artistic style into the wishes of his customers.
"All of my work is very symmetrical and has a focus point," he said. "I'll heat up the end of my torch, I'll have the ash prepared to the side, push the molten glass into the ash and use that one piece as the center focus."
Six years later and processing an average of one order a week, Evans said his work is slowly but surely turning into a full-fledged business.
"We've heard such wonderful stories from customers," said Aly Evans. "People want to have something to hold on to that can signify the love of people or pets."
Now customers can choose between different sizes of glass marbles, beads, pendants, jewelry and paperweights, Vaughn Evans said. But the work doesn't end there.
"I've definitely done a lot of special orders," he said. "Somebody loved turquoise, and I had to match that color. I've done fire trucks, and I've written peoples' names in glass on several occasions."
While Vaughn Evans handles the production side of the business, his wife handles much of the rest.
"She's the other half of the brain," he said. "She's a yoga teacher, she does acupuncture. We're in completely different circles and we complement each other well."
Aly Evans said her work on the business side comes more naturally to her than it does her husband, and she's glad to help, but one day she'd like to join her husband in the workshop.
"I've been a glass blower for years, too, and I've never actually worked with cremation ashes in glass," she said. "And it's something I'm looking forward to learning."
Fitzhugh said while Lion King meant so much to both her and her daughter, the sun catcher reminds them of their pet as it hangs in different windows around her home.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of Lion King," Fitzhugh said. "I'd recommend this for anyone. I think it's something that can be incorporated into whatever you choose to keep of your pet as a reminder."
That sentiment isn't a one-way street, Vaughn Evans added. Often families will send him pictures of the people whose ashes he's working with. That connection is much deeper than if he were simply creating beads or marbles alone, he said.
Inevitably, the final product of his hard work becomes a part of a family's life, he said, and it's not a responsibility he takes lightly.
"My part is just doing my best to make sure they're remembered in the highest quality in every aspect," he said. "You can just throw some ash into some glass pretty easily, but that's not what I'm going for. I'm looking to make a unique piece of art."