Painting Death's Face with a Smile
How a young southern boy obsessed with death came to dedicate a half-century of his life to preparing the deceased for their close-ups.
Photos by Isabel Riofrío
Isaiah Owens’ curiosity about funerals began at the age of five, when he buried animals on the South Carolina farm where he grew up, The first time he saw a dead body was during the funeral of his aunt; after touching her head, he knew his calling was to become a funeral director.
After attending the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in New York City, where he graduated in 1969, Owens built a funeral home based on his signature mantra “Where beauty softens grief.” He says: “I make people look like they are all in heaven,” and he’s worked as a funeral cosmetologist for 46 years, based on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
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