I maybe odd, but I enjoy wondering through old cemeteries. The ones where the stones are leaning over and moss covers one side of the stones. The older cemetery monuments are often artistic and express the love and grief of the families. It is the sculptures and designs on the monuments that we most overlook and most art lovers ignore as artwork. The process of sculpting a monument in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is quite remarkable and a dying art form.
Monument companies kept drawings of designs they could offer clients. The company also kept molds of their most popular designs. If the order was custom, a designer would draw up a design of the monument. Those with sculptures, required the company sculptor to create a model in clay.
Next, the selected granite or marble would be brought into the shop as a large block. Stone cutters cut it into shape and size. The mold of the sculpture would be created and plaster would be poured into the mold. This created a cast of the design. The cast or model would be set next to the stone horizontally to be used by the stone cutter or carver to created the actual sculpture. Using a pointing machine, the stone cutter would cut the design in stone. This would be done several times before the piece was finished. The carver would do the small details by hand.
A draftsman created all the other details beyond the statue. The draftsmen would design the base, die, cap and the lay-out of the lettering. Using a “blue print” or tracing paper attached to the stone, the letter cutter cut out the letters memorializing the deceased.
Today most of this work is done by computers. Statues are machine cut. In places like Westerly, Rhode Island the art of stone cutter is dying. The few who carved stones by hand are dwindling and companies now turn to finely tuned computers. The image of your loved one can be put onto the stone with computer in exact likeness. In the book, A History and Guide to the Monuments of Chickamauga National Military Park, I have a photo of the pointing machine at work. You can also look photos of the granite industry and the process on the website for the Babcock-Smith House – http://www.babcock-smithhouse.com/
While visiting Italy, my husband and I visited a cemetery on an island near Venice. The cemetery was like visiting a sculpture museum. Most amazing, is that the elaborate sculptures were carved by talented artist. Next time you are in a cemetery, really look at the stones. Examine the hands on the angels. Linger over the faces and flowers. When you read the epitaph remember that someone spent considerable time and talent putting on those lines.