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‘Mad scientist’ Port Coquitlam artist adds human and pet ashes to pieces

Port Coquitlam artist Dayna Lonquist creates memorial artworks that contain the ashes of a loved one.

Dayna Lonquist often feels like she’s a mad scientist.

A former interior designer, the Port Coquitlam resident switched careers during the pandemic last year — at the encouragement of her husband — to become a full-time multi-media artist.

They built a home studio where she could get messy and mix her materials for her pieces, using clay, plaster, fibre, minerals, metals and sand, for example, that she dug up or found on B.C. shores and mountains or in the forest.

Now, her creations are for sale at shops around the Lower Mainland including Wish On A Star in Port Moody and the new Hampton Home Living in Port Coquitlam.

Adding found materials to her work, she said, not only gives her images a unique West Coast vibe but they also connect the viewer to nature — with an extra pop of pigment from the organic elements. 

“I feel like I’m a mad scientist sometimes, mixing everything up,” she said. “I feel like I’m a child trying to explore.”

But the Centennial secondary grad also recently started incorporating another natural medium to her landscapes: the ashes of humans and pets.

A mother of four, Lonquist began mixing in loved one’s ashes in her clay at the suggestion of friends who had lost their father and pet.

Lonquist said the pilot process and finished products forever changed how her and her friends viewed art as they “became a very moving experience,” she said. “The art became a different way to express your family.”

She added, “When they picked them up, they were bawling but I felt like I was helping them with their grief.”

A self-taught artist, Lonquist said she consults extensively with her clients to learn about their family and what kind of scene they want on their wall to remember a relative or pet.

She cited a recent landscape — which can be seen on her Instagram and Facebook pages — that honoured a client’s brother. The scene shows four trees, representing the four siblings in the family, with the tallest tree symbolizing the late brother; his tree is touching the sky.

The client, Laura M., told the Tri-City News that she went to high school with Lonquist, and noticed her pieces on Instagram; she had lost her brother last December.

Before his death, she and her three siblings "were very very close and I wanted something really special to represent the four of us and something to hold and treasure some of my brother's ashes in," Laura wrote in an email. "Dayna made that happen. She created this absolutely beautiful, very special piece for me."

In other memorial commissions, Lonquist includes water and mountains; however, her pieces are mostly monochromic to give a sense of calmness and peacefulness, she said.

Lonquist said the ashes add shimmer and texture to the canvas.

“They’re just amazing…. I feel very very blessed and grateful that people have allowed me into their lives do to this work. And people are so grateful and so appreciative. It’s almost like they’re giving me a gift back.”

Lonquist said many families who have lost a loved one are looking for different ways to pay respect and to keep their energy around them. 

“They don’t want the ashes to be left in a jar, tucked away,” she said.

“They want something they can see, that’s on their wall. It’s beautiful and and it’s natural.”