Paper Turtle: Handmade Urns for People & Pets

handmade urn

Hello. My name is Laura and I’m an urn maker.

There. The first step in introducing Paper Turtle, my new business specifically for cremation urns. I’ve been meaning to write about Paper Turtle for almost a year, after I opened shop last May. But I simply had no words, probably because every drop of energy was being sucked into coming up with new designs, befriending spreadsheets, and stocking shelves.

I think there’s a common misconception about artists — that we mostly lounge around in our studios wearing comfy flannel jumpsuits* drinking chamomile tea and listening to NPR while awaiting the tender muse bearing the next great idea: beautiful, poignant, and inherently marketable. But no; for those of us who make part or all of our livings from our work, we know that along with being creatives, we’re small business owners. And like any small business owner, we wear many hats from creator to accountant to janitor.
*ok that part’s true

The only difference, at least for me, is that I have to balance running a business with the compulsive need to make things. It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun, especially when studio successes outweigh failures, and I get to see the pictures in my mind come to life in just the way I was hoping. It’s all the more thrilling when other people like what I do and are even willing to pay money for it. !!

Imagining Paper Turtle, I  had an idea of how I wanted it to look and feel but needed professional help to manifest my vision. So I hired the best branding firm ever, Ripe Inc., who did a fantastic job creating the beautiful design & website,

Ripe Inc branding

paper turtle handmade urns

and awesome photographers (thanks JAK Media!),

biodegradable turtle urn

Biodegradable Turtle Urns, Large 17″l x 22″w x 5″h; Small 6″l x 8″w x 3″h

and then got busy making inventory.

large lotus urn

Lotus Urn, 5.5″ x 5.5″, hand-painted porcelain

Aspens cremation urn

Group of Aspens Urns, 12″h-5″h, hand-painted stoneware

green turtle urn

Turtle Urn, 8″ x 6″, stoneware with decal images

poppies urn

Red Poppies Urn, 6″h x 4.5″w, stoneware with original decals

poppy urn

Red Poppies Urn with matching Toasting Tumblers, 7.5″h x 7″w / tumblers 4″h, stoneware with original decals

fish urn

Fancy Fish Urn, 10″h x 6.5″w, porcelain with original decal images

A few months after I opened the online store, I  developed a line of cat & dog urns, which are now some of my best sellers.

custom yellow cat urn with daisies

Custom Cat Urn, 5″h x 4″w, stoneware with decal images

turquoise cat urn

Turquoise Kitty Urn, 5″h x 4.5″w, stoneware

custom dog urn

Custom Dog Urn, 4.5″h x 4″w, stoneware with decal images

custom white cat urn

Custom Cat Urn, 5.5″h x 4″w, hand-painted stoneware (image courtesy @kaitlynvogel)

custom dog urn

Custom Dog Urn, 4″h x 3.5″w, stoneware with decals

small hedge hog urn

Hedgehog urn, 4″l x 3″w x 2.75″h, stoneware

Part of Paper Turtle’s mission is to help bring our experience of death out of the proverbial closet — viewed in this culture as an unpleasant inevitability relegated to dark corners, spoken of in hushed tones and managed by medical and funeral professionals. I believe there is distinct need for cremation urns that, like any handmade object, are special because they bear the maker’s life energy and have been carefully considered: the shape, weight, silhouette, functionality, colors, texture, how it will look in a room, reflect light, or feel in your hand; in short, they have been loved.

I’m happy to be the part of slow but exciting changes happening in the funeral industry and the way our culture perceives and relates to death. I’m also honored to know that my urns have helped enrich my customers’ experiences of grief with beauty, joy, creativity, and even humor; rather than reminders of sadness and loss, they are engaging works of art that help keep family members and pets present in their lives. Art really does have the power to heal.

outer space urn

Galaxy Urn, 6″h x 6″w, hand-painted stoneware

I hope that none of you needs an urn anytime soon; but if or when the time comes, please keep Paper Turtle in mind, as it’s only with your support that I can continue doing what I love for a living. I also invite you to spread the word — connect with Paper Turtle on Facebook and Instagram, and visit to learn more.  Thanks.

I have no words.

But I did make some pictures!

My sister forwarded me an e-newsletter today from Clue, which seems to be a website devoted to menstrual cycle info & tracking systems. Newsletter topics included The variety of vulvas (when it comes to vulvas, there is no ‘normal’); Stress and the Cycle; and my very favorite, The Period Coloring Book:  a meditative coloring book that normalizes and challenges the stigma around periods. From the author:


I find this hilarious.

I clicked the link to the Indiegogo fundraiser page (check out the coloring video) and was disappointed to find that the campaign is over (funded 137%) so I cannot get my own book or one (shhhh, Christmas surprise!) for lovely Isabella.


who has abandoned me for college life in Nashville.

But, I thought, what the heck, no reason I can’t start my own book now and hope that the print copy is available one day soon in a retail outlet near me. Here’s a preview of my work so far.





RIP Yellow Legs Garcia: Beloved Sister, Entertainer, Friend

ylAPRIL 21, 2016  Yellow Legs “Cuddles” Garcia was laid to rest today in a shady enclave in the back yard she called home for the past three years. Yellow Legs died shortly after being admitted to a veterinary hospital for weight loss and an indeterminate abdominal issue. Having been diagnosed with what could have been any number of reproductive ailments that likely developed over several weeks, the prognoses for which were universally dire, the difficult decision for euthanasia was made. Yellow Legs passed away peacefully in the company of a compassionate vet and her assistant, with her head resting in her caretaker’s hands. She is survived by her sister, White Legs “Jumpy” Garcia, and her blind coop-mate, Rufina, for whom she had recently developed an almost affectionate tolerance.

Yellow Legs was born in 2013 in an anonymous hatchery along with thousands of other chicks. Hours after hatching, she was placed on a conveyor belt where she was sorted according to size, sex and stamina, treated with antibiotics, and dispatched within 48 hours via Fed Ex to a local feed store. From there, she was adopted into the Bruzzese family where she remained until her death.

Although Yellow Legs never knew her parents, she nonetheless developed into a well-adjusted, if sickly, backyard hen. In her youth, she was known for steady egg laying, adventurousness, and an insatiable curiosity that motivated her to traverse all manner of fencing in order to dig through garden beds, often destroying the drip system in the process. That trait, coupled with her progressively delicate constitution requiring three expensive trips to the vet during her short life, caused her caretaker to lay her own sanity open to question on more than one occasion.

Yellow Legs’ favorite leisure activities included sunning herself in forbidden areas of the yard, dirt bathing, and hiding her head while she sat in her caretaker’s lap.  Her professional career began with a film debut in 2014’s The Contest, a performance central to the blog post, delighting “winner” and “loser” readers alike.

Yellow Legs enjoyed almost everything in life. Her presence will be missed and her death honored as one lucky hen among thousands whose brief and miserable lives will end today in slaughter houses, without ceremony, care, or compassion, never having had the opportunity to live as chickens or even touch their feet to the ground. Rest in peace, Cuddly.

The World’s Most Expensive F-ing Chicken (notes)

Ready for the Great Beyond via natural causes. Or aggravated homicide.

Ready for transition to the Great Beyond via natural causes or aggravated homicide.

6:30 a.m.: A beautiful morning. Sit by the pond with latte. Observe that one of the Garcias is looking unwell.

Diagnose Yellow Legs with inoperable cancer based on the following pathogonomic evidence:

  1. Head has been balding for awhile
  2. Pretty chicken = healthy; ugly chicken = sick with cancer
  3. Does not want to eat grapes
  4. A large mass can be seen and felt at front of chest, near crop
  5. Conclude that the mass must be a tumor based on the following:
    1. It is roundish with jaggedy edges
    2. If I were a tumor I would want to live in a chicken’s crop

Prepare myself emotionally to say good-bye to Yellow Legs while mentally composing her obituary: RIP Yellow Legs: Beloved Sister, Entertainer, Friend…

Spend 2.5 hours looking for a vet that treats chickens, just to confirm diagnosis and perhaps offer palliative care and/or euthanasia. Locate four poultry vets in the City of Albuquerque, all of whom are “off rotation” today. Conspiracy?

Find vet willing to see chicken this afternoon. Try to get some studio work done though distracted by the knowledge that the rest of the day will be spent grieving.

See vet at 2:30 p.m. Vet diagnoses Yellow Legs not with cancer, but with a common intestinal parasite.

Weep a little after I’m handed the bill.

Drive 15 mi. to feed store to buy medication which is only available in large, “calf strength” bottle.

Drive home and ponder the task of converting dosage in mg to Tsp, if solution is 9.6% and the chicken weighs 5 lbs. Refuse to admit that the math you swore you’d never needin school might be helpful here. But ah! The internet:

“It is necessary to know the density of the material being measured to convert its amount in milligrams to teaspoons. For example, the density of water is 1 gram per milliliter, and 0.2 grams of water equals 0.2 milliliters, which is 0.04 teaspoons of water…” 

Calculated dosage:

  • Put a bit in the small waterers
  • Put a bit more in the large waterer

Itemized costs:

  1. Vet exam – $65
  2. Fecal exam – $35 (? that’s extra??)
  3. “Calf strength” Amprolium – $21
  4. Gas (vehicle) – $10
  5. Missed yoga class – $25
  6. Missed studio time – $300
  7. Emotional anguish/stress/suppressed homicidal ideation (chicken) – $42,000
  8. Balance from same chicken’s 2012 vet bill ($90) – $85
  9. Lack of social life — $500

TOTAL:  $43,041. 
Eggs owed by Yellow Legs @ $5/doz (fresh, organic, parasite-free): $95,646.

8:30 p.m.: Craft the first of many martinis to be consumed in silence, accompanied only by a pile of unfinished studio work and a medicated, $43,041 chicken roosting happily in the coop; garnish with my own bitter tears.

The Heirloom Vintage Dracula Picture That Could Be Yours

grrrrr! 11

grrrrr! 11″ x 14″ not dracula lobby card, 1931

The other day I was in an antique/thrift store looking for a vintage light fixture when I came across this picture.

I thought it looked old and cool and might be worth something. So I bought it and started researching. I was ecstatic to find that a similar image sold at auction for $45,000 last month. Woo! Would I be one of those people on Antique’s Road Show whose retirement was earned off a $5 thrift store purchase??!

Long story short, this picture isn’t what I thought it was. Know how I felt when I found that out? Relieved. Physically relieved, like Dracula had just removed his fangs from my neck. Not sure why, but I think it was the pressure: if a thing is something, something “valuable,” then it becomes an obligation. Restore? Conserve? Insure? Keep? Sell? How? Auction? Private? Who to trust? How much? On and on.

The joy of nothingness and the burden of wealth are conversations for another day.

For now, I’ve decided to sell this picture on ebay >here to hopefully recoup my investment.

For your convenience, I’m publishing the listing here too (enhanced version) so that you might enjoy the opportunity to be next in the noble provenance line. The auction just started so, yay for you, the current bid is still the starting bid of $6.32. Good luck!

PS The first person to correctly answer the riddle at the end of the listing (below in Comments) wins a Toad Love™ cup! Happy spring!


11″ x 14″ 1931 Dracula Movie Picture, Terrible Condition

This is most likely a newspaper ad for the 1931 Dracula Vampire Thriller film.

It’s been lovingly glued to cardboard (painted blue) and vigorously sprayed with varnish in indiscriminate swirly patterns of varying thicknesses.

After several days of intense research and consultation, it is my unprofessional opinion that this is NOT a title lobby card. I base this authentication on the following criteria:

1. It appears to be newsprint
2. It appears to have been cut with bluntish scissors
3. Professional assessment:

  • “Laura, I’m sorry but don’t feel we will be able to assist with this as the printing is just not sharp enough, in my opinion, to be an authentic lobby card.” — Heritage Auctions
  • “[silence]” –Christy’s Auction House
smack-smack-smack with my own floating hand!

smack-smack-smack myself with my own floating hand!

So, moving forward.

Overall Grade:  D+

As stated, this picture is in terrible condition. The D+ rating has been given because it has every conceivable type of damage possible to printed media EXCEPT the following:

  • pet urine/feces*
  • fire damage
  • teeth marks
  • mold
  • water damage
  • tire marks
  • food/saliva stains (evidence of licking)*
  • Folds

*not guaranteed

In other words, when you place the winning bid for this item, you will be purchasing a picture with approximately seventeen (17) pin holes; forty-two (42) wrinkles; three (3) tiny tears; five (5) eddies; fading; yellowing; water (or urine) stains; cardboard backing (adhered); missing bits (upper left); handwriting (bottom); raggedy edges.

But let’s not dwell on the negative.

What You Will Be Purchasing

In addition to the Dracula picture, check out the “surprise” I found on the “verso” of this item. Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 4.01.28 PM

That’s right, side-by-side Daisy Rifle and Tarzan ads!

Looks like JFK Jr. if you squint.

Looks like JFK Jr. if you squint.

Because nothing says Christmas In America like Santa with a sack full of guns.

Fortunately for her, Debby Cloud (?) didn't order this catalogue. Could've put one of her kids' eyes out.

Fortunately, Debby Cloud (?) never ordered this catalog. Those rifles could put someone’s eye out.

And how about the mysterious hand-writing?

DSCN8808 DSCN8809

Know what I think? I think this was written by the original graphic artist, overwhelmed by a violence of achievement at seeing his/her first-ever printed newspaper ad. He was inspired to clip it, touch it up

“Damn, that red didn’t print as brightly as I thought it would.  I’ll just go over it a bit with my red marker…”

and do it all over again. Sixty-six times. As Christmas gifts for his friends & family. Sixty-six of them.

Each ad was numbered and dated by the artist (adding value) because in the 1930s color newspaper ads, especially large unfolded ones, were rare and collectible. Neither he nor Debby Cloud should be blamed for the fact that at some point prior to 2015, she (Debby) chose to sloppily affix her gift to cardboard and varnish the hell out of it, intending to preserve it for all eternity. Essentially ruining it.

But ruin is a relative term.

In my opinion, considerable value has been added to this item by the artist, Debby, and me. Because now it’s not just a damaged picture, it’s a story. One that you will think about every time you see it hanging on your wall. One that might even bring you joy.

How much is that worth?

  • Comes with free, authenticated print version of this listing
  • Recommended framing: Sandwich between two pieces of glass so it’s “reversible”
  • Shipped flat, in plastic, nestled between four (4) sturdy pieces of cardboard via insured USPS Parcel Post (better chance of getting lost)
  • US shipping only unless you can answer this riddle and then I’ll consider shipping outside US (for actual cost):  “What do vampires cross the sea in?”

My Own Glorious Retrospective (2013-2014)

Last week, a magazine published by the art school I attended arrived in the mail bearing news and highlights of various exhibitions including this upcoming BFA show:

“…[the artist] draws on the paradox of simultaneous hypervisibility and invisibility within critical race theory and her own lived experience as a “brown femme queer woman occupying the deviant body of the ‘other.'” Through a combination of video, photo, sculpture, and installation, she explores the construction of the other by responding to the imagery of a “standardized body” enforced by capital-driven industries.”

I’ve never been clever enough to write such incomprehensible intellectual descriptions of my own work and processes. And I’m not trying to bash my fellow artists here, it’s just… WHAT?  

Here’s another:

[the artists] collaborate to present Womb, a large-scale 3D animation with the sound developed to incite a dialogue about the connection between digital bodies and human emotion. Drawing from reality to fabricate an invented one, the content and installation of the animation emulates the interior of the human body while the sound element is modulated live based on the vibrations traveling through the physical gallery space. The exhibition creates a metaphysical loop that evokes the human desire to return to the womb.”

Do you have a desire to return to the womb?

Do I?
graph1graph2 I think it’s time I had a retrospective of my own. Since I don’t feel like waiting for the invitation from a major gallery or museum to arrive,* I think I’ll do it here, myself. And I think it will be much more efficient to plagiarize appropriate text from my art school magazine than to come up with my own pretentious third-person drivel descriptive prose. So, enjoy (and you’re welcome).

Laura Bruzzese: My Art, My Womb: Art Returning to My Womb: The Retrospective (2013-2014)

Biodegradable Funerary Urns contend with themes of death. The works emphasize mortality, and the process of creation and display to honor departed loved ones and defy traditional commercial funerary practices that rely on the underpaid labor of brown people in other parts of the world to satisfy the traditional 400% industry mark-up.

Sustainable, affordable, non-toxic, and fair-trade, Biodegradable Funerary Urns allow families to explore nuances of death, celebration, and impermanence for several seconds before they (the urns) sink to the ocean floor and eventually disintegrate or are consumed by sea life, thereby expanding Biodegradable Funerary Urns into a collaboration with ourselves.

Lotus urn

Lotus Urn, recycled paper, 7″ x 13″, full-sized capacity

Dolphin (1)

Dolphin Urn, recycled paper, 7″ h x 13″ w, full-sized capacity

Sand Dollar

Sand Dollar Urn,  recycled paper, 7″h x 13″ w, full-sized capacity

Small Turtle Urn, recycled paper and plant-based adhesive, 8 oz capacity

Small Turtle Urn, recycled paper, 8 oz capacity

Large Turtle Urns, recycled paper, 12

Full-sized Turtle Urns, recycled paper, 12″ x 16″

Botanical Motif  Ceramics are inspired by garden life. “One time I took a Plant & Animal Illustration class at art school. It’s been pretty useful.” –Laura Bruzzese


b blossom mug pr

Blossom Mugs, 5″h

b bloss mug

Small Blossom Mug, 3.5″ h, 6 oz

b blossom cup detail

Poppy Tumblers, various sizes

Poppy Tumblers, 4″-7″h

b poppy detail

The Screaming Toad™ series investigates the complex layers of selfhood and phony trademark usage in the context of taxonomic background, breeding preference, and personal displacement. Simultaneously satirical and sincere, the works operate in paradox: both seductive and foreboding, they are embedded with the politics of hearing and being heard, loving and being loved — among ourselves, amphibians and unsuspecting neighbors.

toad detail

Toad Love™ cups, 2.5″ h

Toads Galore Cups, 3

Toads Galore Cups, 3″h

toad draw1

Pair of Toad Love Mugs

Spanish/French Toad Love™ Mugs, 4″h

Recent praise for Toad Love™ mugs: “My coffee will never be the same.”  –Bob

The critically-acclaimed Jumpy draws from reality to fabricate an invented one, creating a metaphysical loop that evokes the insatiable desire of gallus domesticus to eat grapes.


Dia de los Muertos works: “As we artists living [in] Nu[evo] Mexico like to [say], ‘Put a skull on [it] and it will sell… [H]ear[t]s too…'” –Laura [Bruzzese]

Lidded Tea Cup with Skulls, 7

Lidded Tea Cup with Skulls, 7″ h 3″ w.

Pair of Sugar Skull Cups with Creepy Detached Jaw, 3.5

Sugar Skull Cups, 3.5″ h

b skull mug

Muertos Mug, 4″h

Assorted Pendants and Refrigerator Magnets, 1

Assorted Pendants and Refrigerator Magnets, 1″-3″

Bruzzese has recently extended her masterful range of talents to collaborate with world-renowned wildlife photographer and one of her personal heroes, Nick Brandt.

©nick brandt, Ranger with tusks of killed elephant, amboseli, 2011

©nick brandt, Ranger with tusks of killed elephant, amboseli, 2011

Although Mr. Brandt has no idea Ms. Bruzzese exists, that might change when his Big Life Foundation receives the first of (hopefully) many donations from the sale of Elephant wares in her Etsy shop. These works espouse hyperbole, creating confusion around lines drawn between “us” and “them,” ignoring categorical limitations of cross-species empathy, innocence, and exploration of permanence: extinction vs. human greed vs. stupidity vs. inexpensive decals.

Set of Elephant Espresso Cups, 2

Set of 6 Elephant Espresso Cups, 2″ h, 4 oz

Pair of Elephant Mugs, 3.25

Elephant Mugs, 3.25″ h, 8 oz

In Buy My Kid’s Crap, Ms. Bruzzese expanded her internet-based multi-media work beyond Etsy into the wider and more depraved ebay auction audience, examining our relationship with the material world as both a container for, and disposable manifestation of, our childhoods. The ebay store was itself the artwork, including the carefully written item descriptions (more valuable than the objects for sale) as well as marketing materials. This graphic was printed on 6″ x 4″ gold leaf tickets and included with each sold auction item, forcing the recipients to contemplate the implications of “winning,” “admittance,” and the responsibilities of possession/consumerism, while simultaneously suggesting that Bruzzese is, perhaps, insane. winner1

Guest Lecture: Rufina

Seeking The Essence of Womb
Friday, March 12, 2014, 2pm
The Coop

Rufina is recognized as one of the major figures in the artist’s back yard. For more than two years she has been discerning boundaries between industrial sounds and wilderness sound environments, proposing a blind, profound, and transcendental listening freed from the imperatives of knowledge and open to sensory and spiritual expansion. She will present this lecture as performance, a series of movements informed by the unique perspective that only an eyeless, overweight chicken engaged in a largely sedentary life might render. Free and open to the public. rufina

TBT Father’s Day Fashion Edition: 32 Ghastly Ads from the 70’s

I came across this collection on and thought it was hilarious and laughing on a Thursday is always a good thing. Most of the captions are theirs but I added a few of my own where I just couldn’t resist. Check out the very last ad — write your answers in the comments and maybe it will turn into a contest! With a prize!


I’m afraid to ask why “horizontal opening” matters.