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An Interview with an Award-Winning Memorial Designer About His 50+ Years in the Industry

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Alecia Milano
Posted by Alecia Milano on October 27, 2020

Michael Feinberg is the lead designer and a memorial specialist at Milano Monuments. He’s been with us for nearly eight years, has spent 52 years in the memorial industry, and is one of only about 130 “Certified Memorialists” in the U.S.

Michael is an award-winning designer who is known nationally for his hand-drawn memorial designs. He wants to help people, make their experience as simple as possible, and ensure that every single person receives a special, meaningful memorial.

I’ve worked closely with Michael for years, but sat down and interviewed him about his time at Milano Monuments and career in the industry. He brings a unique perspective on memorials and talks in-depth about the tremendous care and attention he gives to every family he works with.

 

Q: What do you do on a daily basis?

Michael Feinberg, Certified Memoralist and Designer at Milano Monuments

As a memorial specialist, I am not a salesperson. I’m simply a guide for families looking to design and purchase a headstone for a loved one or for themselves (such as during preplanning). The most important thing I can do is listen. In my opinion, the less I say and the more I listen, the easier it is to help families find what they’ll like most.

Lately, one of my favorite things to hear has been the word “perfect.” Because I design the memorial on my computer as we talk about the person, the family sees me create the memorial in real time. If at any point they look at the mock-up and say, “that’s perfect,” I take my hands off of my keyboard and mouse because I know my job is done.

It’s at that moment that I realize how appreciative the family is of what we do. We’ve guided them through the process to a point where they feel the memorial is exactly what they want to represent the life lived.

 

Q: What does it mean to be a Certified Memorialist?

 monument builders of north america logoAwarded by the Monument Builders of North America (MBNA), Certified Memorialists need to have at least five years of experience in the industry, be regularly involved in industry activities and events, and—most importantly—have an intimate knowledge of memorialization. You’re required to take a test every three years to make sure you know your stuff.

I’m a Certified Memorialist because I want to take advantage of every resource I have access to. The more I know and the more I’ve experienced, the better I can be at my job. I can impart the knowledge I’ve gained as a Certified Memorialist to the families seeking support during the memorialization process.

 

Q: You’re an Award-Winning Designer? Tell Us About That.

At the biennial MBNA conference, they give out a number of awards voted on by other members or selected by a panel of designers. I’ve received a top three placement in several categories for different awards over the years. It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by my peers for doing what I love.

 

michael feinberg hand drawing designing a memorial

 

When I design a memorial, I want it to be something the individual, family or organization would love, and always hope that it effectively represents whoever it is for. I also feel a design should consider the entire monument, and that it should be perfect and balanced from the ground up.

 

american institute of commemorative art award to michael feinberg   award winning commemorative design honoring all who have served

 

For example, in 2011, the American Institute of Commemorative Art (AICA) awarded me first place in the category of Public or Civic Monuments. I believe that every aspect of a memorial should have meaning. In this design, which honored veterans from every branch, was extremely symbolic:

  • Red, white and blue granite are used throughout the memorial, representing our nation's colors.
  • The globe in the center is a blue polished granite with a star on the U.S.
  • The pillar holding up the globe is a red granite made up of 13 grooves, which represent the 13 stripes on our flag.
  • The branches of service surround the globe, which symbolizes the U.S. standing as a protector of peace throughout the world.
  • The center is shaped like a pentagon, which is where the U.S. Department of Defense's headquarters is located.
  • At the very top is a bald eagle, which is our national bird and appears on the country's seal. It represents strength, courage and freedom.

It's important to me that each aspect of a memorial is meaningful. The extensive symbolism of this veterans memorial is what I believe the AICA considered when awarding this design contest.

The detailed approach I took towards this project is also how I think about every new memorial discussion with a family. I believe the memorial should look beautiful, but also effectively symbolize the individual, family, organization or event it is meant to honor.

 


Q: What does memorialization mean to you?

Of all the things we do as humans, what will stand for the longest?

We’ve found granite in Egypt, with the polish intact, that has been around for more than 5,000 years. That means that the granite memorials we place in cemeteries today are going to last for thousands and thousands of years beyond us.

To me, a memorial can reflect to future generations who we were, what we were, what we believed in and what we thought about during our time on earth. Buildings are built and torn down, but memorials will last.

When I help families with memorials, regardless of their budget, I think it’s really important to care about their memorial and make the best design you can.

 

What do you wish families knew about memorialization?

I want everyone to understand that it’s extremely important to recognize someone who lived. From my perspective, if someone lived on this earth, the minimum we can do for them is to mark a spot to show that they were here. Each person deserves something to mark that they existed.

It may not be important to each individual person, but you never know who the person impacted, and who will want to go visit their final resting place.

 

What is your favorite part of working at Milano Monuments?

The people I work with. We aren’t just coworkers, we’re family.

I truly feel that we’re a team and that we all go out of our way to help each other. Even after 52 years in the industry, there are times when I need support, and I know everyone is 100% there to help me.

Even if I don’t directly ask for help, there are many times when someone will overhear an issue I’m having and they’ll quickly say, "I have an idea, let me help you with that." We really are a team.

 

What do you consider to be the “Milano Difference?”

I truly believe that we’re not here to sell you something—we’re here to help you and guide you. We want to inform and educate you so that you can make an educated decision. We realize how permanent and final it is.

Because of the nature of our work, I believe that we owe it to the families we work with to be compassionate, understanding and gentle. Everyone at Milano Monuments cares for each family and is willing to go the extra mile.

There are a lot of other places that are just there to sell you something, write up an order and make their commissions. When a family chooses to “shop around” and visit other places, they almost always come back. They tell us that, compared to other memorial providers, they didn’t feel pressured and were treated with kindness at Milano Monuments

 

Meet with Michael or One of Our Other Memorial Specialists

As you can tell, Michael believes every person deserves to have their life recognized. If you want to talk about a memorial for a loved one or preplan for yourself, schedule an in-person or video appointment with a memorial specialist today. They’ll be happy to guide and educate you to make the best decision for yourself.

 

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