From Slate to Marble: Gravestone Carving Traditions in Eastern Massachusetts 1770-1870

Article excerpt

James Blachowicz. From Slate to Marble: Gravestone Carving Traditions in Eastern Massachusetts 1770-1870. Evanston, IL: Graver Press. 2006. 440 pages with accompanying Compact Disc. $59.95 (hardcover).

Some of the most important clues to our past linger in some of the most overlooked parts of our landscape, gravestones. For From Slate to Marble, James Blachowicz spent years not only studying and documenting the rich heritage of gravestone carving in Eastern Massachusetts, but also recreating a connection to an all but forgotten artisan craft important to the region's past.

The strength of the book is the vast level of research and stunning photographs that offer excellent examples of the characteristic designs of specific shops in eastern Massachusetts and the District of Maine (part of Massachusetts until 1820). The work moves from important commercial centers outwards, mimicking the influence of Boston from the early city to the industrial city. Blachowicz provides examples from each artisan's shop as well as a map showing the regional distribution of stones by Nathaniel Holmes, totaling over 1,400 gravestones identified by Blachowicz. Because of these resources, the stylistic nuances, details, and trends unique to the each shop are made more recognizable. When looking in chapter two at some of the stones carved by Horace Foxin, one can see the details: while an 1817 stone carved entirely by Fox for Captain John Boyd shows a willow weeping over an urn, a stone carved for John M. Houston shows a similar relief of a willow over an urn, though the urn is slightly different in detail. The Houston stone shows how one artisan could carve the headstone, but the footstone might be carved by another once the owner was deceased. Such cases lead to a very tricky area for scholarship, but Blachowicz maneuvers it well, using other examples of an artisan to add strength to his conclusion. If an uncertainty arises on a particular design component or stone itself, he points out his views on the issue at hand and suggests that further work be carried out before drawing a conclusion. This method of investigation strengthens his observations and work as a whole. …