The Queue: Margaret Cross

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.

The Queue: Margaret Cross

Get to know the people featured in the pages of our magazine as they share what's inspiring them right now.
Spring 2023 issue of American Craft magazine
Margaret Cross

Margaret Cross in her Brooklyn studio. Film still from Engraved, 2022, a documentary by Tiffany Jiang.

Welcome to the vessel series of The Queue.

A biweekly roundup for and by the craft community, The Queue introduces you to the artists, curators, organizers, and more featured in the pages of American Craft magazine. Our Spring 2023 issue (cover pictured right) is centered on the theme vessel and is out now! Join today to reserve your copy while there's still time. In The Queue, we invite the inspiring individuals featured in this issue to share personally about their lives and work as well as what's inspiring them right now.

Margaret Cross makes jewelry to help people remember the dead—and celebrate the living.

When Margaret Cross’s best friend and former boyfriend died suddenly in 2008, the grief threatened to consume her. Instead of running from it, she created a ring with a coffin-shaped garnet to keep his memory close. In the 15 years since, she has been making and selling mourning jewelry, incorporating human hair, pet hair, ashes, fabric from cherished clothing, and other remains into her work to keep her customers’ lost loved ones present in their lives. Elizabeth Foy Larsen writes about her work—and that of six other craft artists working to incorporate mourning rituals into their practice—in “Remembering Well” in the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft. | @margaretcross

Cover of the Spring 2023 issue of American Craft
Hand holding jewelry made with hair

Custom mourning hairwork reliquary, containing client's deceased mother's hair, 2023, 14k white gold, white sapphires, crystal, human hair, .91 x .43 in. Photo by Margaret Cross.

How do you describe your work or practice in 50 words or less?
I make custom mourning pieces using the hair or ashes of our loved ones, as well as memento mori pieces to remind us that this life is fleeting and to live each day to the fullest. 
What are your favorite / go-to tools in your studio?
For almost all of my 20s, I worked for the artist Swoon as a printmaker. I also did large-scale paper cuts. An OLFA blade became an extension of my hand, and I still use one daily in my studio for all kinds of things. There’s always an OLFA in my back pocket. I use it for carving wax, which is then cast in gold. I’m currently using it to cut photos into little hearts for my new lockets. 

If you could have work from any contemporary craft artists for your home or studio, whose would it be and why?
I don’t have a space for this, but if I’m completely dreaming I would love to create a memorial garden like Carlo Scarpa’s Tomba Brion, which he described as “a place for the living to shelter the dead.” I’d love a serene backyard connected to my workspace where I could be literally surrounded by my loved ones. I would ask contemporary stone carver Andrew Carr to create his beautiful hand-chiseled headstones in order to pepper the garden with slate and marble markers bearing my lost loved ones' names.

Marble headstone

Marble headstone designed and made by Andrew Carr, a Massachusetts-based stone carver. Photo by Andrew Carr.

Your work speaks to the immense healing power of craft. Tell us about a customer story that resonated with you and inspired you.
I couldn't pick just one. Getting to know someone through their greatest losses first is an unusual introduction, but it’s also like a bullet train straight to their core. Every single story resonates with me to some degree. After Jamie, my best friend and former boyfriend, died suddenly in 2008—the worst day of my life—I felt terminally unique in my grief. When customers share their stories, it’s a reminder that I’m not unique and I’m not alone. It inspires me to prioritize my time here with my loved ones and to make sure they know how loved they are. 

Memento mori ring

Devotion ring, 2021, 14k yellow gold, bicolor tourmaline, .39 x .35 in. Photo by Autumn Swisher. 

Memento mori ring

Devotion ring engraved with “Till Death Us Part,” 2021, 14k yellow gold, glass enamel, blue sapphire, .39 x .29 in. Photo by Autumn Swisher.

How do you manage the emotional work that comes with making memorial craft?
It’s cathartic but healing. Navigating loss didn’t come easy to me. I like to think that I do all the self-care things we all are told to do when we are grieving. I have routines and rituals—morning rituals, bath rituals, the ritual I do when I’m working on a piece, a yoga and meditation practice, et cetera. But there is a major difference: these losses are not mine to grieve. I’m just a witness, and I also get to be a witness to their healing. It’s a service I’m grateful to be able to offer and a privilege to witness healthy grief modeled, which helps me on my own journey. I get to experience a lot of joy—more than you may think. It’s so incredibly rewarding to receive the thankful emails I get after a person has received their piece. It’s really a dream, and I’m so sincerely grateful that this gets to be my life. I can’t say it enough!

Which memorial-related artists, craft exhibitions, or projects do you think the world should know about, and why?
The wind phone, originally created by Itaru Sasaki, is the most poignant memorial-related project I could ever think of. I felt such an urge to reach for my phone to call or text Jamie, even months after his passing. Intellectually I knew he was gone, but it felt like I would momentarily forget and then come crashing back to my new reality once my phone was in my hand. Even if you don’t have that experience, it’s a beautiful way to feel connected to your loved one. At Jamie’s funeral my father said to my friend Ian, “Just talk to him. You can still keep talking to him. I talk to my brother every day.” The wind phone is just a perfect project, in my opinion—that one-way conversation can be so healing. 

Wind phone

The wind phone in Ōtsuchi, Japan, was created by Itaru Sasaki in 2010 as a way to hold a one-way conversation with a cousin after the cousin’s death. A simple phone booth containing a disconnected phone and notebook allows visitors to speak to loved ones “on the wind.” Since then, reproductions have been built all over the world. Photo by Matthew Komatsu, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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