Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Carver ID

Commenter RJO is very knowledgeable about Massachusetts gravestone carvers, so I'm posting a few pics so that he (or anyone else) can determine whether this carver is indeed John Dwight of Shirley, MA (see an example of Dwight's work here).

I think that these four/five stones were carved by the same person. That opinion is based on the distinctive eye capsules, similarities in border design, and the fact they are made of slate, a material that was not often used in eastern CT. I'm not sure that the Thankfull Payson stone (#5) fits in this group, particularly since it is so much earlier than the others, but there are stylistic similarities.

Another theory is that only the Scarborough stone was carved by Dwight, while the others were carved by someone else. There is a Markers article called "The John Dwight Workshop in Shirley, MA, 1770-1816," but I haven't read it, so I don't know whether those were its active years or only the years covered in the article. I can check at the library tomorrow. Most of these stones are pre-1770, so it's unlikely that they came out of the shop in Shirley.

Stone #1:
Joseph Scarborough, Brooklyn, CT, 1771

Stone #2:
Abigail Perrin, Brooklyn, CT, 1767

Stone #3:
Penelope Williams, Pomfret, CT, 1764

Stone #4:
Mary Grosvenor, Pomfret, CT, 1770

Stone #5:
Thankfull Payson, Pomfret, CT, 1758

I'm also open to theories as to why stones from a Shirley, MA carver are turning up in eastern CT. This sometimes happens when a carver moves away from his birthplace and continues to send stones back home (as when Zerubabel Collins moved to Vermont from CT) or when people moved away and continued to buy gravestones from their hometown carvers. Distinctive stones can also turn up in far-off places when two carvers developed similar styles under the tutelage of a single master and set up their own shops in different towns. I don't know what the case is here. In order to formulate a good guess, I'd have to know whether Dwight stones are common in other towns south of Worcester but closer to Shirley (Auburn, Oxford, Webster).


Robert J. said...

These are fascinating.

#1 is absolutely classic John Dwight. No question.

The others are very close and must be his, but they are all odd in some way. It looks like they must be very early examples of his work, before his style had settled down. If you have a chance, you should take good pictures of them for posterity. (Shame about all the lichen.)

Payson might be a possible connection (or might not). There was a Payson family of ministers in the general Shirley area -- one in Lunenburg and one in Fitchburg. Perhaps your Payson is a member of that extended family? (Just a conjecture.) Perhaps John Dwight spent time in Connecticut after his apprenticeship with Foster, but before settling in Shirley. But what about the slate? Is the type of slate used in these stones the same as other stones from other carvers in the cemetery? Or is it the dark high-quality slate from Massachusetts that Dwight later used exclusively?

Unknown said...

I have a possible idea about how stones from one place can be found in another. At the Bennington Museum we have a collection of letters from a family of stone carvers from Arlington, Vermont, the Rules, dating to the 1820s. This is 50 years after Dwight, I know, but they had extensive business contacts in western New York and as far away as Ohio!!! So, it wasn't like these stone carvers only catered to a local market. They had the ability to secure commissions and deliver stones to far flung places, quite distant from their home base. Not sure if this applies to Dwight or not, but it is a possibility.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Kerin. RJO did a little research and found that the original settlers of Pomfret were from Roxbury, MA, and may have maintained ties to the gravestone carvers in that area (I think his comment is on this thread).

It's true that some carvers sent stones far away (Z. Collins, John Stevens of Newport). The reason I was so surprised to see these high quality stones in Pomfret is that NE Connecticut was and is somewhat isolated from major population centers/markets, and most of the other carvers in the area are strictly local (to the point where there are some whose work only appears in one or two villages).

It would be interesting to compare how gravestone production may have changed between 1720 and 1820 as populations expanded, transportation got better, and regional styles were muted by the popular styles of the early 19th century. I haven't checked out any Ohio gravestones, but if the styles in New England are any indication, I would bet that the urn-and-willow pattern dominated between 1800 and 1830 and then moved toward more sculptural and text-only forms by mid-century. In New England, the rate at which regional styles deteriorate after the Revolution is startling.

Maybe this homogenization of style is what made it possible for the Rules to serve clients in far-flung locations. I don't know whether the NY and Ohio communities were planted by natives of Vermont, but if they were not, the flattening of regional style might have made it easier for them to accept stones from Vermont's famous quarries.

As I'm typing this, I'm forming the kernel of an idea for an essay comparing satellite communities' loyalty to the regional style of their town of origin in the 17th/early 18th century vs. the late 18th c and the 19th c. My prediction would be that earlier examples would show greater loyalty to a style from the point of origin and that by 1800 or so, the preponderance of neoclassical style would mean that people moving away would retain less loyalty to any regional style quirks.

Something to investigate.