Excerpt from review by
in Sculpture Journal
(Fall/Winter 2009) 18.2; 263-265.
“This substantial and finely produced book, complete with a CD, is devoted to the rescue from semi-oblivion of the obscure careers of 55 East Massachusetts gravestone carvers.
. . .
For Blachowicz, two forms of lineage are intertwined: the celebration of some of the oldest
family lines in New England, and the development and dissemination of a craft and a business across the generations of a few dozen artisans, who responded to these commissions. Teasing out ‘the concrete lines of craft inheritance’ becomes the mission, and the fertility of the region under
discussion is unquestioned.
. . .
It is this very detailed level of analysis, localized and systematic, that Blachowicz undertakes with mastery. The care, comprehensiveness, analytical rigour and archival amplification that have been brought to the task are daunting. And the photographs are simply some of the very best ever taken of tombstones. Britain, especially England, lags very far behind.
. . .
Giovanni Morelli advanced connoisseurship in the 1880s by advocating scientific scrutiny of the artist’s treatment of ears and eyes, as a means to building up a corpus of work. Blachowicz brings a scientist’s eye for detail to letter forms and flourishes, mannerisms and the tell-tale marks of the
individual carver. The result? Patterns of production and distribution emerge within the massed ranks of gravestones; the identity of distinct workshops emerges, which careful archival work then amplifies to produce biographical profiles; and we have the basis for approaching the memorials with a new immediacy.
. . .
It is this sense of rescuing lost identity that gives the book its heart. The author’s movingly modest aspiration offers his work ‘mainly to those who are simply taken by the beauty of these stone artefacts, and who find interesting the traces left behind in various historical records by
these working men – these “nobodies” of early American history’. After all, the best known
mason in English literature is Jude the Obscure.
. . .
And what of the sculpture? The power of New England gravestones has long been recognized, and to see the array here of moving shallow relief carvings, the calligraphic vibrancy and decorative effect of many of these stones is to be reminded of the irrelevancy of terms such as ‘folk’, ‘provincial’ and ‘rustic’. An alternative way of seeing is needed.
. . .
What is expressed well . . . is the overall shift from the eighteenth-century age of the cherub and
skull, rendered in slate, to the early nineteenth-century world of the willow and urn, which in turn gives way to the increasingly marmoreal realm of the cemetery marker. Slate is equated with darkness and death: marble, with light and remembrance. The very material reflected the
transition from a stern view of death as punishment and warning, to the softer
modern view of death as loss and remembrance.
. . .
From Slate to Marble is a highly important contribution to gravestone studies, and its rigour, comprehensiveness and precision demand the highest respect. A methodological landmark, and a penetrative study in business history besides, Blachowicz’s beautiful production should send all of us into the graveyards, searching for clues.”