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Prince's urn: Local urn-maker tells us about preserving the Purple One's ashes

The inside of Prince's urn was modeled after the atrium at Paisley Park, pictured here.

The inside of Prince's urn was modeled after the atrium at Paisley Park, pictured here. Associated Press

It’s the first thing everyone noticed, even if they weren’t sure what they were looking at.

BuzzFeed opened with it. The Pioneer Press described the gasps and awe from the early crowd. 89.3 the Current called it “jarring” during its live stream.

As Paisley Park finally opened its doors for fans to tour last Thursday, it seems like everyone was utterly gobsmacked by the presence of Prince’s ashes, which were positioned in the atrium in a glass display holding an urn modeled after the Chanhassen, Minnesota, complex itself.

Peter Saari is pretty used to creating pieces that garner this sort of attention. The death vessel he designed with his company Foreverence for Lemmy Kilmister got him invited to the late metal singer’s Hollywood funeral, officially cementing him as the urn-maker to the stars. That’s why folks at the Star Tribune were calling and asking him whether or not he’d be designing Prince’s urn as early as May.

“I was like ‘No, not right now, but thanks for associating us with the high-profile work,’” Saari tells City Pages. 

But Saari was approached by the Prince estate -- namely Diana Frappier, an Oakland lawyer working with the Prince estate -- to have a custom urn designed within two weeks of the reclusive musician’s death this past April. Saari met Frappier at the airport as she was heading back to California, and they two bandied around some ideas that would befit a legend the heft of Prince.

“There were some obvious choices,” Saari says. “The symbol. The guitar in the shape of the symbol. Something related to Purple Rain. A little red Corvette.”

Frappier took Saari’s suggestions and handed them over to Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, who gravitated to one of Saari’s original concepts -- a mock-up of the front tower of Paisley Park. Tyka and her son, President, made an appointment to meet with Saari at Foreverence’s office in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and they surprised him by bringing their own digital rendering of their vision.

“Turns out President has some CAD design skills,” Saari says. “He had modeled a crude sketch, and it gave us a very good starting point. They said, ‘We think his urn will be in the front column of Paisley Park, and we were hoping we could finish the inside of the piece and finish some of those interior elements.’”

The final product includes many of the extremely specific details Tyka and President requested. The front face of the urn lifts away to reveal a scale model of the main atrium of Paisley Park that includes fine details down to the Prince symbol inlaid in the carpet, the dove mural on the back wall, and Prince’s purple Yamaha piano sits in the back.

Check out People's exclusive look at the urn: 

“It’s a super elaborate piece,” Saari says of the work produced by his design crew. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to finish the inside of a piece, so that was new for us. [And it’s] way bigger than our average piece.”

Fitting for an icon as beloved as Prince. But reaction to the laboriously designed piece has not been universally positive. Some have called the urn and its presentation in the main entrance of Paisley “vile.” Others on social media are just creeped out by the presence of the incorporeal Purple One in the hall.

But strong reactions haven’t been universally negative. Saari’s heard reports of people breaking into tears or prayer at the sight of the urn, and that’s something that shows him he’s done exactly what he set out to.

“Some people love the idea that he’s represented that way, and other people absolutely hate the idea that the family has chosen to show his urn,” the Foreverence CEO says. “I would so much rather have the reaction be that. To me, that’s such a more meaningful experience. I can understand why it’s jarring to some people or people are taken aback, but I’d rather it elicit some emotion, even if it’s sadness.”

And, in the end, Foreverence’s duty was to fulfill the family’s wishes, not those of the public. Yes, there’s the daunting duty of memorializing a legendary life in a single sculpture. But to Saari, it’s just a family trying to figure out the best way to say goodbye.

“In terms of a celebrity we’d want to memorialize, he’s it,” he says. “But to the world, it’s Prince. To us, it’s really just the Nelson family trying to figure out how to memorialize their loved one in an appropriate way.”