Figure 1. Bradley monument. Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery, Luray, VA. Photo: author.

In some respects, this marker is a commonplace and it wouldn’t seem to require a second look. I took the picture because this 1939 monument is a nice, if modest example of late Art Deco design. The soft-edged setbacks, the streamlined geometry of the decoration, the simplified organic forms of the leaves, and even the color fit right into the style. To compare small things with great, have a look at Raymond Hood’s American Radiator Building of 1924 (figure 2).

Figure 2. Raymond Hood, American Radiator Building, 1924. Photo: Jean-Christophe Benoist. CC-by-3.0 Wikimedia Commons.

Yet the Bradley monument offers a lesson in the value of giving that second look, and in fact for two different reasons.

In the days before lasers and computer-driven cutters executed technically flawless designs created by CAD, humans designed and created monuments. Trade journals show how much these cutters depended upon pencil, paper, and mathematics to align everything. Font designs were published in these journals for those wanting to learn them, and in general “professional development,” as they call it these days, was a routine. Of course, humans are still involved in the creation of even the coldest computer-aided designs, and these people are also clever and well trained. You can see videos of them in action on websites devoted to selling monuments. But in general, far less scope is offered for human intervention in the creative process in creating modest monuments.

Of course, you can distinguish the hand of the human through the flaws it introduces in design and execution. If all human work were perfect, there would be no conversation to be had. Even when machines execute designs perfectly, designs can be flawed by being cluttered, for example. The Bradley monument reveals the hand of man more delightfully, in a subtle imperfection in spacing.

Figure 3. Bradley monument. Detail: carved decoration. Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery, Luray, VA. Photo: author.

See how the word BABY is not centered in its space, and how the organic forms on either side are not the same size. The letter Y has been squished in for lack of space. We see this all the time when people write protest posters that start out with great big letters and taper out (and sometimes curl around) because their typographical eyes were bigger than their stomachs. Likewise, the penciled marks the cutter put on the stone as a pattern were imperfect in how far the outermost geometric forms should drop: one is too high, or one is too short.

These flaws are not blunders but merely signs that this was made by a human and not a machine. They in fact make this monument as a piece of art more valuable than a machine-made one, no matter how elaborate. There are, of course, flatly blunderous pieces, but even they have a certain human charm about them.

The second thing to notice is that poor little Bobbie died at the age of six years and 10-ish months. It therefore seems inapt to term him, young as he was, a ‘baby.’ It could be the parents got a deal on a stone that was ‘in stock’ and priced to move, but if not, as a parent I’ll give them a pass because it’s hard not to think of even an older child as the baby it once was.

Figure 4. Judd monument. Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery, Luray, VA. Photo: author.

As a final bonus observation, not only is the sheep very geometricized in its profile (tall and rectangular, in keeping with the deco style), but it is perhaps the first one I’d ever seen in which the snout has not been broken off by vandals or eaten away by water and time. More typical is the sheep on the Judd monument (figure 4), both in shape and in commemorating an actual infant of 16 months. Oh! And its snout is intact, too.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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