People who frequent older U.S. cemeteries quickly become accustomed to seeing the “rustic” look in funerary markers: markers, headstones, and monuments designed in the conceit that they are logs. That is the formal trade name for this stuff, as you can see from the following advertisement (figure 1) and the several in the following gallery (figures 2-7), all taken from the trade journal The Monumental News, 1896. Depending upon your platform, clicking on the gallery images may enlarge them.
I add figure 7 to show a the “rock face” or “rough stone” style, which is a mannered way of cutting the stone to give it a rusticated look, as though we are looking at exposed rock in nature. It’s quite common to see highly polished work and rusticated work side-by-side in the same monument, the idea being, I suppose, that the polished work is emerging from the rough hewn “natural” stone. You see both techniques together in figure 6, for example.
I will not dwell further on the latter here, except to give you as a treat my absolute favorite rustic monument, that of Commander Levi Bertolette in Arlington National Cemetery. Here, wonderfully, the cutter has played with the surfaces in order to depict an American flag draped over a rusticated stone (figure 8).
No, I lied, I will give you one more, the Steward monument in Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. I do it not simply out of self-indulgence but to illustrate an intermediate form between the rusticated rock and the fully rustic technique.
Note that the rock is central, but the story is being told by the other features. Ivy has connotations of life, but it also breaks stone down; the urn which notionally sat atop the stone is broken, in symbolism of the broken chain of life implied by the grave, and decay, and mortality in general. The name plaque appears to be propped up on the stone in a way that indicates the sculptor wasn’t too concerned to depict a literal means of having it stay in place. The fine cutting of the leaves of the vine is a hallmark of this aesthetic, at least in better realized examples.
Figure 10 offers a mediocre, even perfunctory example which nevertheless exhibits the main features of the breed. The hewn logs below support the likewise hewn log above. For the purposes of cost efficiency, the logs have been streamlined with square-ish cross sections, rudimentary linear expressions of the grain and rays in the cut faces, and very simplified bark.
The ivy we saw in the Steward monument (figure 9) is present, as is the plaque somehow affixed to the standing log. Below, the ivy creeps up the stacked logs, and there is both a fern and a lily, together with the lily’s very large leaf. The medallion atop is for the Woodmen of the World, an Omaha-based insurance company of which McDonald was evidently a member. Woodmen gave their salesmen-members tombstones like this one from about the time of the founding in 1890 through about 1930, when the program was abandoned for reasons of cost.
The Ernest N. Gray monument in Oak Hill is another transitional fossil, so to speak, with a rusticated stone sporting only the surname etched out in log font—or I should say, ‘twig font.’
Well, it’s time to show you a monumental example of the rustic style, nay, the example that drives all competitors from the field. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you (drum roll) the T. S. Lloyd plot in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA (figure 12).
The only flaw in this masterpiece is the (living) invader tree that blocks nearly half of the central monumental trunk from view. Drink it in! Where does one start? From the edge inward, perhaps. Clicking on the gallery images below may enlarge the images.
You know how some people get over-invested in something? Lloyd was really, really invested in the log thing. It is not uncommon to see a border around a plot, but it’s usually sort of like a street curb—smooth. Here Lloyd has purchased a custom-made rustic curb, and it is really well made. The surname is given on the threshold (figure 13) in a simpler log (not twig) font, and the log borders are joined somewhat “Lincoln-log-like” with a little trestle under the joint. The posts that rise up in front are very carefully worked, comparably to the headstones—see the knots and ferns.
There are six other family members besides Lloyd and the missus commemorated in this plot. The individual headlogs are not much different among themselves, featuring a common design (figures 17, 18, click to enlarge).
Minnie’s (figure 17) and Blanch’s (figure 18) headlogs are both manifestly sculpted to order, and, at twenty-three years’ separation, carved by different hands. This is true for the various differently dated headlogs. Here we have, I think, morning glories creeping up over the ivy; the logs have roughly squared bottoms. The name plaques hang by rope from a front-central knot, and the surname is given differnt treatment: Blanche, the later, in log-font; Minnie, the earlier, in twig font. The execution on both is quite fine compared, for example, with the McDonald monument (figure 10). The undercut leaves and flowers are impressive, but wait: better is coming.
Kind of a ‘holy cow’ moment to see this, isn’t it? There are two carefully executed logs that bracket a rusticated stone center. The trunks have branches that are interwoven (in an embrace, so to speak) and which hold up a scroll. That scroll is broken, or two separate scrolls at the top, but at the bottom it is a single scroll. These could all be taken as symbols of the marriage. The tree trunks here as elsewhere symbolize death, decay, and the breaking off of life. Still, new life blooms: white calla lilies (to judge by the shape of the flower), reeds by their stems, and ivy clinging and climbing. From death comes new life.
Compare the Lloyd monument with that of the Watsons in West Laurel Hill (figure 19a), another ambitious rustic monument. There is much that is praiseworthy in the Watsons’ headlog (not least that the break has been treated so as to suggest that the trees were deliberately felled), but nothing like the interwoven branches and the play with the scroll(s). And the Watsons have done nothing comparable to the Lloyds in completism; though the daughter Rene is nearby, also on a log.
Looking back to (and at the back of) the Lloyds’ double monument, one can see the rusticated stone more clearly, and the embrace of the tree limbs is clearer, too. The fine sculpting of the knots and bark can be easily made out, not least in the split bark where the upper part of the notional tree has been lopped off. The ivy tendril coming around the left trunk in figure 20 is wonderful, too.
And now, the piece to resist: the central focus of the plot, the central broken tree stump (figures 22, 23, 24).
Figure 22: the fat, old vine can be seen emerging from the dead roots of the stump; both are anchored in stone. Charming wood ear mushrooms grow out of the trunk. A pot of lillies is set on the stone upon which the trunk is notionally anchored. The bark is quite realistic.
Figure 23: the vine curves up and around the tree above the calla lily flower. The vine tendrils and leaves are cut with exquisite delicacy. I touched them: they feel like concrete or stone. The vine has been broken by visitors or natural causes here and there.
Figure 24: and the crowning glory of the whole plot is the vine near the top of the stump bursting forth with fruit, and the exquisitely realistic way the wood of the tree has broken off (and not just been sawn) and the bark ripped off and peeling back.
Finally, there is the wondrous name scroll in giant, fully detailed log font so large that the log letters still have twigs coming off of them (figure 25).
And so, Log-a-palooza. Eternal thanks to T. S. Lloyd for paying for the doubtless fantastically expensive furnishings of this plot. I’ve not seen all examples of the rustic funerary monument, but I’m pretty sure that Lloyd gets “world champion” for completeness, sparing no expense on detail, obsessive fixity of purpose, and sheer size.
Most rustic logs are carved from stone. Parts of this monument may be, but I do think that in fact much of it is cast cement which has been assembled. No carver is so good as to undercut all of those grape vine leaves, stalks, tendrils and grape clusters. Some of it might even be less durable material coated with a hard bonding cement-like finish.
I’ve not read anything about the techniques for creating the rustic look on these detailed monuments in the trade journals yet, but if I do I’ll come back here and update this post with the answer.