Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stylistic Progression

Cranky Yankee has asked about the stylistic progression of gravestones/epitaphs in areas other than Boston, so I'm going to post a few progressions here. The death's head to soul effigy to urn-and-willow progression is well documented and can be found throughout New England. In rural areas, it tends to take on a local flavor because the few local stone cutters held onto their vernacular styles, but they did incorporate new trends.

Windham, CT:

Windham, CT was officially incorporated in 1692, and boasts a big, beautiful graveyard with lots of examples of the work of Obadiah Wheeler, the Mannings, and the Collins workshop. Like the burying ground in Brooklyn, CT, the Windham cemetery is still an active burial place. 

The earliest generation of stones in this graveyard date from the 1710s and 1720s. Like the Thomas Huntington stone (right), these stones (most of them carved by Obadiah Wheeler) feature deep-cut whorls, pinwheels, and other sensual forms. If you blow up this picture of the Huntington stone, you will see not only delicate, winged soul effigy, but also a pair of eyes formed by the whorls under the lunette. Ludwig called this "visual punning."


The aesthetic of deep carving and vine-based borders lingered in Windham after it was beginning to fall away in more cosmopolitan communities. Still, the neoclassical style began to make inroads in the years after the Revolution. Notice the diagonal, striped "columns" to the left and right of the soul effigy on the James Flint stone (1788). In addition, the epitaphs of the post-war period began to reflect a pride in civic service similar to that seen in Concord. Flint's epitaph celebrates his civil virtues, but not his piety:
For 30 years, he was a reputable Merchant in Windham and always sustained the charity of an honest man and a good citizen.
By 1807, urns and willows had come to Windham. This design is not as airy or sophisticated as the Concord examples, but it is undeniably geometric and neoclassical. Local carvers have interpreted the urn-and-willow pattern and reproduced it in their own way. Part of the problem is that the low-quality stone available in Windham could not take the light carving of high-quality Massachusetts slate.

Providence, RI:
Providence was an urban area, so residents had access to a wider range of gravestone carvers. The John Stevens shop in Newport, RI supplied many high-quality stones to Providence (and still does to this day!). I've explained the stylistic progression often enough, so I'll just post these pics in order. All of theses photos are from the North Burial Ground in Providence. They were taken by Robert Emlen, curator at Brown University, and can be found at the course website that I wrote for him.

Hannah Jenkes (1718)
Freelove Angell (1788) 
Stephen Angel (1816) 

1 comment:

Cranky Yankee said...

Yea! Windham...my hometown. Windham Center Burying Grounds is practically in my back yard. :-)

Josiah Manning is buried here, next to his wife who has a more elaborately carved stone than he does. One of the highlights of this place is the way the stones glow at sunset, thanks to the high mica content in the granite used.