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The Art Of Death

February 2024
1min read

Soul in the Stone Cemetery Art From America’s Heartland

by John Gary Brown, University Press of Kansas, 246 pages.

The photographer John Gary Brown defines the heartland broadly enough to take in Colorado and even New Mexico in his surprising picture survey of cemetery art and sculpture. After Louis J. Baker, an apprentice stonecutter in Bedford, Indiana, was killed by lightning on his way home, his co-workers capped his grave with an exquisite limestone model of his workbench, down to chiseled nails, cloth, broom, tools, and a cornice he had been working on. In Nebraska City, Nebraska, the insurance salesman N. C. Harding and his family lie beneath a full-size marble replica of a rolltop desk that he designed for himself. And the monument built by John M. Davis in Hiawatha, Kansas, is even grander. It follows life-size likenesses of Davis and his wife from courtship through Mr. Davis’s accidental loss of a hand to a visit from the angel of death, and it ends with a bearded widower seated beside “The Vacant Chair.” The assemblage of sculptures cost Davis most of his fortune and took Italian carvers eight years to complete. At the close of this splendid book the author worries over the future of cemetery art, with sculpted “naked ladies and cowboy boot vases” definitely on the wane across America.

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