June 6, 2011 12:21:00 PM
Gregory Gates makes people into angels ... literally. The owner of Gifts for All in north Columbus, a "whotnots" shop near Columbus Air Force Base, makes concrete sculptures for burial markers including headstones, babies, hearts, teddy bears, benches and of course, angels.
Gates, however, doesn''t always just use concrete to make his creations. He''ll mix your loved one''s ashes into the mix and transform them into a one-of-a-kind, up to four-foot statue that will last forever.
The 63-year-old South Carolina native has lived in Mississippi since 1958, and served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Vietnam War. He runs his gift shop with help from his wife, Donna Gates, and together they have one 26-year-old son, and a 1-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth.
Gates says that he and his partner, Avery Pinnix, make headstones to help grieving people heal through marking their loved one''s graves in a beautiful and affordable way. The self-proclaimed "Crete Craftsman" Gates says that he and Pinnix don''t make a lot of money off of their headstones and sculptures, and between labor, materials, and gas back and forth from their workshop in Mathiston, it has to be a labor of love. They have shipped their markers as far as Kansas City, Mo.
Gates and Pinnix sell their concrete sculptures and custom grave markers at Gifts for All on Highway 45 North in Columbus, R and S Antiques across from the Columbus Walmart, and at Browns Farm Supplies.
How did you get into making grave markers?
Being in the gift shop business, we sold concrete and everything. People always asked me if I could make grave markers for them because other places are very expensive. For the longest time I said no.
How many different kinds of sculptures do you make now?
We''ve been developing our molds for about three years and have about 25 things people can pick from.
How much do they cost?
Our markers cost between $99 and $899, which according to what I''ve heard is about a third of what similar things cost elsewhere. Basically you can get a double-wide (for two people) marker with an angel and both sides (front and back) engraved and installed for $899.
Are you able to earn much from that?
You charge $99 for a marker and haul it both ways, splitting it in half, we''re not making any money,
but when you bring it back here and see those people smile and cry, it makes it all worthwhile.
How do you deal with the emotional aspect of what you''re doing?
Well, I''ve lost my mother, father and daughter; I understand the pain that they''re going through. And when they come in to buy a tombstone, it brings all that stuff back. When you read a poem or quote to put on the headstone, they get pretty emotional. It feels good to me to reach out and make their hearts feel a little better.
How hard is it to make the tombstones?
It involves a lot of manual labor. This is not an easy job, especially for being older, it''s not easy mixing concrete, lugging sand and these huge, five, six, and seven-hundred pound items. But we got a lot of secrets, and we''re keeping our secrets.
What is the largest sculpture you''ve been asked to do?
We did a big, big tombstone that we couldn''t hardly manage. You have to realize that all the lettering is worked in reverse, we use mirrors and everything, but the people had four girls'' names and four boy''s names they wanted on the back, and we ended up putting a full size bench inside the tombstone to hold all the letters, which made it heavier of course. The thing was huge, ended up being 48 inches wide, six inches deep and 44 inches tall at its largest parts, and with the two pieces together, weighed over 1,000 pounds.
How did you get into adding ashes into the headstones?
I had a gentleman bring me a lady''s ashes and he asked if we could do something with it. And I had already researched with the state that what we could legally put these ashes into these mixes. In his mind, we took his wife and made her into a real angel.
Do the ashes cause any problems with the process?
It''s very hard to work with that because when a person is cremated, their bones are ground up, and when you mix that in, they want to come out and don''t want to burn or stain or anything. It''s very hard to work with, but that one turned out beautiful.
Why do you think that someone would want to add cremation ashes to a marker?
Well, my mother was cremated and my biggest concern was that children would knock her bowl over. Some people put (ashes) in closets, or they just don''t know what to do with them. But we can take their ashes, they can keep a few, and we''ll put them in a marker that can go in a cemetery, in a house, the garden or the yard. And we''ll have their name and the date they passed on it. You need to mark the person that was here. If you''ve got them up in a jar, no one really knows who they are unless you''re telling them, but if you have a marker and you''ve got their ashes in there, you don''t have to worry about breaking the jar or losing it, because it''s a pretty good size piece. And it will last forever.
Is there anything else special you can do?
Well we do glazes, and we can do pigments that are solid all the way through. We have three or four pigment colors and basically unlimited stains. We had a request for a four-foot angel to be palm green, and that turned out really well. We never know exactly how they''re going to come out, that''s up to God, but no two are alike.
(For more information about Gate''s concrete sculptures, contact him at 662-251-9631)