Excerpt from review by
Mary Catherine Wood of the University of Delaware
in Winterthur Portfolio: A Journal of American Material Culture
(Winter 2008) 42:4; 294-296.
“James Blachowicz’s sumptuously illustrated book,
From Slate to Marble: Gravestone Carving Traditions in
Eastern Massachusetts, 1770–1870, follows a tradition in gravestone study that employs formal
analysis, connoisseurship, and genealogical study.
. . .
Seeking to provide his readers with an 'inside story of this very old American craft' (4), the author illuminates a
complex network of activity that extended over a wide area, arguing that the shift from the production
of slate gravestones to carved marble monuments was reflective of a larger transformation in
American consumer demand, industry, and economics.
. . .
Early nineteenth-century newspaper advertisements and probate records are employed
to explain how young carvers in towns like Kingston and Plymouth reduced the demand for
Boston-carved stones, ultimately bringing an end to [Boston’s] role as the dominant regional
Detailing carving locales outside Boston, Blachowicz engages questions surrounding apprenticeship
traditions, shop diversification, marketing, and the extensive physical infrastructure
necessary for tablet production.
Additionally, the text examines the transformation that occurred in
the first quarter of the nineteenth century when material preference shifted from traditional slate
to more fashionable marble gravestones.
Although the period from 1830 to 1870 has long been omitted from studies of gravestones, Blachowicz makes
a compelling case for the inclusion of objects created within this time frame: these stones exemplify
the move from flat, tablet-shaped stones to monuments with more three-dimensional sculptural
adornment, they demonstrate developing trends toward standardization of design elements, and
they reveal evidence of the transformation of labor from craft traditions to early industrial models.
. . .
Augmenting Blachowicz’s thoughtful text are two tremendously useful components. First, the book
includes a CD-ROM with over 750 color images keyed to the text, searchable and sortable lists of over
8,000 stones, lists of over 1,300 signed and documented gravestones, and a catalog of 713 burial
grounds in which the included objects can be found.
Second, the author has compiled an appendix that he refers to as the 'freytag27+ scale.' This photographic
compendium, displaying sixty sets of carved typefaces executed by most of the major craftsmen
presented in the body of the text, provides a connoisseurial key with which to examine tombstones.
The letters, numbers, and symbols included in the title (freytag27+) are, in the author’s opinion, the
'most effective tool[s] in identifying a carver’s inscription'
. . .
Appendixes like the aforementioned freytag27+ scale reveal avenues for additional research.
In fact, the greatest strength of Blachowicz’s methodical survey may be the extent to which it opens
doors for the further study of this genre of American material culture.
. . .
This monumental text, while offering prospective avenues for further inquiry, reminds us that
gravestones are not simply inanimate markers of a distant past. Blachowicz claims that this work 'is
offered mainly to those who are simply taken by the beauty of these stone artifacts, and who find interesting
the traces left behind . . . by these "nobodies" of early American history' (10). However, the value
of his book extends far beyond the casual observer. . . ."