All images from Crazy Coffins
From giant-size whisky bottles to ballet slippers, Viking ships and kites, there’s apparently no limit to Nottingham-based Crazy Coffins’ ingenuity when it comes to hand-crafting caskets with a wow-factor.
But the headline-making company, which will be showcasing some of its showstopping bespoke coffins at the Belief and Beyond Belief festival at London’s Southbank Centre on March 4 and 5 2017, says its craftsmanship is inspired by the people they are made for.
“We don’t pride ourselves on being great designers,” the company’s Ursula Williams says. “The creativity comes from the families. We just do what we are asked.”
Crazy Coffin’s forthcoming London showcase is one of several exhibitions that the company’s been a part of. Unusually for a business within the funeral industry, it chooses to display its colourful coffins in art galleries and creative spaces, where members of the public can touch, photograph and even climb inside them.
“Children love them,” says Ursula. “They’ll be unleashed all over them and clamber in and out, while some people will lie in them and take photographs. They don’t seem to be scared at all – and it does help people to think ahead.”
Many of the unusual coffins that Crazy Coffins has made, have been for the funeral ceremonies of young people, with personal commissions such as the skateboard pictured above and realistic-looking guitar, below, reflecting their hobbies, passions and ambitions.
“Parents of young people who have died don’t want them buried in an ‘old man’s’ coffin,” says Ursula. “The coffins often say a lot about the people who have died.”
“We recently made one for a young person in the shape of a steamer trunk. They’d really wanted to travel and it had paper labels on it, with destinations they’d already been,” adds Ursula.
“People surprise us with how calm and in control they are, when they call us. Some say it helped them through the funeral and made them smile. We’re amazed by how brave people are.”
The Crazy Coffins workshop is part of Vic Fearn & Company, which has been making coffins since Queen Victoria’s day. Like many joinery businesses of its kind at the time, it also had a funeral directing side. But after the turn of the 20th century, it began to focus solely on making traditional coffins, which the company still also makes.
In the 1980s it began to offer decorated coffins and personalised coffins for people wanting a more unusual funeral ceremony. Things began to get ‘crazy’ when it was asked to complete a partly-built Red Arrows style coffin on behalf of a lady from Scotland.
Gradually, more left-field requests began to come in, until the company’s personalised coffins began making national headlines and inspire more amazing funeral ideas.
Each bespoke coffin takes around a fortnight to be hand-made in the workshop and can cost from between £1,000 and £5,000. Most orders come through funeral directors, but members of the public do also approach the company direct, especially in cases where they are pre-planning their own alternative funeral.
If you won’t be needing it for a while, the company can store your Crazy Coffin, but some people actually keep theirs at home as a talking point.
“A lot of people buy the coffins before they need them,” says Ursula. “Many are of them are middle aged and in robust health, but they’ve recently been to a funeral and don’t want to be ‘packaged’ like that.”
Other people order their bespoke coffin when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness and preparing for death, while the company has also made and stored personalised coffins for people working in high-risk jobs or serving overseas. “Not one of them has been used so far, so they seem to be a talisman of good luck,” says Ursula.
Depending on their funeral arrangements, clients have been buried in their novelty coffins, while others have been cremated.
Some of the more unusually-shaped coffins have pieces that can be removed for burial or cremation, while the company is sometimes also asked to create a facsimile of the special coffin to place a loved one’s funeral ashes in. People who have made alternative arrangements for a coffin, may commission a bespoke urn instead.
Although the Crazy Coffin business sprung up of its own accord, it has a creativity in common with the elaborate caskets that Ghanaian funerals are famous for. One of Ghana’s top coffin artists, Paa Joe, has even paid a visit to the Nottingham workshop: “We’re both keen on encouraging each other,” says Ursula.
“The artistic nature of the coffins does help with the grieving process and there’s no limit to some people’s imaginations when it comes to sending loved-ones off,” she adds.
“They are all the products of much thought – and that’s integral to the funeral.”