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Green Cemetery Marks First Body Burial, Adds Art Installations

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Courtesy of Donelle Dreese
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Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary debuts an all-natural art exhibit this weekend, spread across its 40 acres of rolling meadow and woods. In line with the green cemetery's ethos, all of the exhibits are created from organic materials and are designed to decay into the landscape.

Heritage Acres is the Cincinnati region's only dedicated green burial ground. Since opening in April 2020, the cremains of seven individuals have been interred in the Pierce Township preserve. In April 2021, the first body burial took place.

"It was a beautiful ceremony," says Donelle Dreese, vice president of Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary. "One thing that I think is really nice about green burial is all of the services are family-directed, so no two burials are the same. ... The service is over when the family is ready for it to be over. We would never rush anyone away from the sanctuary when they are going through a difficult time or trying to process that grief or the emotions that they may be experiencing.

"The family stayed for as long as they needed to to commune with one another and many of them did help fill in the grave."

Natural or green burials are designed to limit the impact on the earth. Instead of ornate headstones, families may place a small natural stone that lies flat to the ground. Rather than plotting out a grid, people can walk the grounds and select where they'd like to be buried. Graves are dug manually by volunteers, and bodies are not embalmed.

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Credit Courtesy of Donelle Dreese

"There's no concrete or metal vault that's placed inside of the grave," Dreese explains. "If there's a shroud used then it needs to be made of biodegradable material; and a casket the same, it needs to be made of biodegradable material.

"When you're here, you're in a nature preserve. It's an ecologically protected nature preserve," she says.

There are 86 pre-purchased spots to date, she says.

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Groundbreaking: A Natural Art Exhibition

Heritage Acres Board Member and artist Linda Littman curated the art exhibit opening Saturday. Groundbreaking: A Natural Art Exhibition features a variety of artists who created their works with all natural materials found at the preserve. Each piece will be left in place "until reclaimed by the elements naturally."

Littman is moderating a discussion with several of the artists May 29 at noon at the preserve.

"We are thrilled to have such a diversity of artists and interpretations of the cycles of nature brought to life in these works," she says in a release. "Art has long been a part of burial rituals. This feels appropriate to the celebratory view we hold of life and death in this place."

Artists include Michael Coppage, Aaron Littman, Adoria Maxberry, Madg Weighner and Aleisha Yusko.