The Bolte-Willms folly

Under a late-summer mackerel sky in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery stands the astounding Henry Bolte monument on its generous plot in figure 1. This prestigous corner of the cemetery, near the Gothic chapel and Hans Schuler’s famed Riggs and Baetjer monuments, is crowded with all sorts of monumental gems, and one appreciates Bolte’s (wife’s) foresight in putting their beaux-arts confection in a generous space. You can see the curbs and stones in place to keep the riff-raff at bay.

Figure 1. Bolte plot. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

This beaux-arts folly consists of a cubic central mass with very unexpected, very wonderful colonnaded hemicycles bulging from its sides. As is often the case, the date is not clear, but I’m pretty sure Bolte’s wife, Virginia, commissioned it soon after his death in 1897. See how fresh the stone looks in her inscription, cut after she died in 1924 (figure 12).

This monument therefore represents full-bore gilded-age excess, akin to when you—or rather, I—go to the buffet and get the roast beef (because it looks so crunchy brown), and, distracted, add macaroni and cheese (to relive my childhood), and then on top of that some General Tso’s chicken (because sweet yumminess), simultaneously taking mashies and some hush puppies on the way to the table and oh! is that a pot of chili over there?

I should refine my metaphor: the Bolte architect had taste and was well informed. The architect did not go full Taco Town, so to speak, but stuffed herself with a better organized meal that conforms to rules of a sort. So think more of a plate piled high with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, and bean cassarole with gravy poured over it all. Figure 1a offers archival footage of the process of design.

Figure 1a. Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want. Uncopyrighted World War II poster. Public Domain. NARA. Wikimedia Commons.

But it turns out that there is a second helping of this monument type served up by the Willms family. This monument is about 8 miles away in Druid Ridge Cemetery and dates, I suspect, to about 1922 (figure 3). As with the Aspiration and malleable monument types I have written about, the suburban Druid Hill work, while it is fine and mérite un détour, is slightly inferior to its urban forerunner which deserves the Michelin vaut le voyage label.

Leaving aside the statues for a moment, the two monuments (figures 2, 3) look pretty much the same. Where they differ—significantly—is in detail, which is where I’m heading. I apologize: the light and the position from which I photographed the Willms monument do not do it justice and make it look squat. It is, in fact, just a bit squatter than the Bolte monument because the architect needed to compensate for the overly tall sculpture atop its interesting roll-on-deodorant-applicator base.

The hemicycles (figures 4, 5) differ in refinement. I put the difference down in large part to automated cutting, for the coarser and sharper Willms decoration smells of the machine. Compare, for example, how the Bolte columns swell gradually, in good classical style, whereas the Willms columns have linear profiles and awful round bases like hockey pucks under them. Exquisitely, the diameter of the hockey pucks is slightly smaller than that of the toruses at the bottom of the columns: bad form!

The Bolte columns were born in an age where the machine was still aiding the skilled artisan’s hand, and I’d be surprised if they were not turned on the stonecutting equivalent of a lathe. Yet then the artisan went in by hand and cut in the complicated flutes (filled with rods, note: figure 11) and the two rings of astragals above.

By the time the Willms columns were born, the machine was guiding the technician’s hand. This studio had become so dependent upon it that its designers were beginning to steer clear of things that were hard for a machine to do: a host of refinements that required the (costly) trained eye and hand to carve.

Think of a column blank as a big cylinder suspended along its central axis of rotation; now turn that drum and apply a cutter to it which is guided by a model (nowadays they use computers to guide the cutter). Straight lines are always easier than curves, and so the Willms columns, while tapered, have straight sides. Then cutters were applied lengthwise down the column to excavate the flutes. Rotate the column one twelfth of a revolution, and carve another flute. These cutters leave a coarse surface compared to the more finished surface of the Bolte columns.

The monogram on the Bolte monument (figure 6), while a touching symbol of self-regard, is also beautifully cut. Where lines go under one another, they sink a bit and have a soft look; and the tiny triangular cut at the center of the B to the immediate left of the left hasta of the H is just wonderful. The complex interweaving of the letters reminds me of one of those Celtic weave patterns. The oak branch on the rear of the monument, too, has been sensitively carved with a softness from life (figure 7), as have the flowers on the volutes next to the hemicycles (figures 8, 4) and the laurel wreath with iris flowers and acanthus scrolls on the front (figure 12). Count the dentils in the entablature of the hemicycles of the two monuments (figures 4, 5)—one has more smaller ones, the other has a coarser grind with fewer, larger ones. I could go on, but by now you can probably spot these things for yourself. Figure 10a serves as a check to show by contrast with a landmark monument that there is a limit to the refinement of the Bolte monument.

Although it falls short of the Bolte monument, the Willms one raises an interesting question: why, as late as the 1920s, look back to a gilded-age model? I may have missed one of these in my rounds of Baltimore-area cemeteries, but it’s not like they’re thick on the ground so that the Willms monument might plausibly be interpreted as merely another example of a type that had enduring popularity; so maybe Willms saw the Bolte monument while at a funeral in Green Mount and liked it. Perhaps a very effective salesman was involved.

For example, I have in my possession a copy of the 1932 Book of Presbrey-Leland Memorials, a commercially-motivated catalogue raisonné of monuments that studio considered to be among its finest. It would have made good browsing literature for recent widows or widowers in the market for commemoration, and features monuments in historical styles. On top of that, one suspects that people dying around 1920 led the best parts of their lives in the 1880s and 1890s and perhaps had a hard time shaking off the tastes and class gestures inherited from those days. So perhaps the commissioner of the Willms monument was predisposed even as late as 1920 to prefer an outmoded style.

Figure 16. Bolte monument. Detail: frontal view of sculpture. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

Turning to the statues, the Bolte one appears to be a holy figure (Mary? A wingless angel? The spirit of truth?) petting a smaller, apparently young figure. The elder figure, veiled with a heavy cape over her cinched dress is seated with the left leg raised because the foot rests on a rock. The feet are bare. Perched in the lap and looking ready to fall is a fat book. The attitude is of a fond, indulgent teacher with an eager student. The young figure is on one knee, the left, and wears a long gown with short sleeves. Her visible foot is bare, too (figures 18, 19).

The inscription, “Thy will, not mine, be done” (figure 16), may be the sculpture’s title, or a theme for the monument chosen by the commissioner. One presumes that the saying (which comes from the Gethsemone scene in Lk. 22:42, cf. Mt. 26:42) is meant to reflect the dying or deceased person’s resignation to the inevitability of death and to realize as a compensation that it is all part of God’s plan. Perhaps the young figure here is envisioned as learning, post mortem, from the holy elder what God’s will actually was. The youth of the figure would correspond to the newly reborn soul, I suppose. It is not clear to me what the sash over the younger figure’s right shoulder means.

If I were a betting man, I would say that this sculpture was produced by the same shop that produced the four sculptures in my malleable monument post. The stone used, and the treatment of the drapery seem similar.

“He shall give his angels charge over thee” proclaims the inscription under the Willms statue of an angel alighting upon an orb (figures 22-23). The angel scatters posies over the grave in an interesting take on a conventional image of grieving: they’ve been brought to the grave in a little flower basket, whereas they are usually envisioned as picked casually en route to the grave and clutched in the bearer’s hand, or cradled in a fold of the bearer’s dress (figures 24-29). The spontaneity is key. Alternatively, the grieving figure is imagined as having woven a wreath or garland of flowers. A good example can be seen in my malleable monument post.

It is possible that the Willms angel was by the same hand as the Painter monument in Druid Ridge: see the similar corkscrew treatment of the locks of hair in both (in my malleable monument post, figure 9). None of this would surprise me, as these were all clearly products of an important Baltimore area studio. In fact, now that I look, it may well be that figure 27 also shows a figure originating in that atelier, as it again has a similar treatment of the hair.

A landmark cemetery is a place where one can spend a good half an hour analyzing a rich, complicated work of art like the Bolte monument. Is it great art? No, of course not. Monuments by an Augustus Saint-Gaudens or a Vinnie Ream or a James Earle Fraser are few and far between. Money wasn’t that plentiful for most folks who commissioned funerary monuments. Yet even conceding these monuments are not objets d’art of the first rank, it’s telling that monuments as good as these were created by artisans in such numbers. Just look at that cluster of monuments in figure 1, and I stipulate that there are better ones just out of frame. A good boneyard is like a Schatzkammer filled with treats to delight the intellect and the eye, and this doesn’t even begin to consider the fascinating social history they can reveal.

But best of all is the aleatory nature of the hunt in these cemeteries: you literally never know when you’re going to spot some incredible, crazy folly like the ones I’ve talked about here, or spot a monument in which self-regard or excessive grief, marinaded in the gasoline of money, has burst out into an incredible and exotic flambé.

Phidippides and the victory motive.

You may remember the legendary story of Phidippides, the man who ran from Marathon, the site of the Athenian victory over the Persians in 490 BCE, over the 26-odd miles to Athens to deliver the good news. In the earliest version he stumbles into Athens at the end of his run and no sooner does he announce the victory (“Rejoice! We win!”: χαίρετε· νικῶμεν) than his heart bursts and he dies on the spot.

Phidippides thus becomes the first runner of a marathon, that is, an extremely hard race, and he is fittingly associated with victory. This proved a potent combination for at least one Christian seeking to commemorate a life well lived in front of his family mausoleum in Druid Ridge Cemetery, a mere 8 miles outside of Baltimore. Why should this have been?

Saint Paul (figure 0), seeking a metaphor for a Christian life well lived despite the difficulties of temptations and setbacks—not to mention the difficulties of spreading the word—had written (2 Timothy 4:7), “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” It’s what rhetoricians call a tricolon, a group of three statements in a crescendo of increasing significance. The first two members of the tricolon are folksy sports metaphors which just about anybody would have understood, and the third explicitly ties the idea of (winning) sports competitions to keeping faith.

Figure 0. Caravaggio, The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. Photo: public domain (PD-Art). Wikimedia Commons.

Most other translations render ‘course’ as ‘race,’ which makes things even more explicit, and it is in that form that the middle member of the tricolon crescendo appears on countless tombstones to celebrate (or assert) that the deceased led a Christian life. It’s all very nineteenth-centurical. We also have the well known Pauline promise (1 Cor. 15:54) that “death is swallowed up in victory,” which again makes a connection between successful life as a Christian and winning.

Sometimes those with space to burn place the whole tricolon on their monument. Yet others assume that they can allude to it because once upon a time absolutely everybody could be counted on to know the original. This idea, of course, underlies the presence of laurels and the palm frond in funerary iconography. Either one, or both, of these classically derived symbols of victory form an allusive synecdoche for the tricolon. Recall, too, the motto of Admiral Nelson (Horatio, not Harriman) and various schools (in particular of USC, as my dad never tired of telling me), “palmam qui meruit ferat,” ‘let him who has deserved it carry off the palm.’

So, we have the palm on the Raine monument in Green Mount (figure 1), and the laurels offered over the tomb of Captain Sargent in Arlington (figure 2), and the overdetermined double whammy of both on the Velati mausoleum in Rock Creek (figure 3).

Here (figure 4), in an example taken almost, but not quite entirely, at random, is the connection made explicit in the splendid Marburg monument by Hans Schuler in Green Mount (Schuler also did the angel whose hand we see in figure 2).

Figure 4. Hans Schuler, Marburg monument. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.
Figure 5. Hans Schuler, Marburg monument. Detail: plaque recording burials. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

The patriarch, William August Marburg (1814-1873), and a goodly number of his 10 offspring are buried in Green Mount. There on the plaque with their names (figure 5) are two sprigs of laurel, and in the left hand of Schuler’s figure is the palm (figure 4). “The true victory,” we are assured, “is a life well lived.”

Figure 6. Marburg mausoleum and Schuler’s Phidippides. Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, MD. Photo: author.

One of the Marburg children was not buried in Green Mount with the rest. Theodore Marburg (1862-1946), an ambassador to Belgium, built a mausoleum at Druid Ridge (figure 6). More importantly, his son, Theodore jr., is buried there. Junior had volunteered in the Royal Flying Corps when he graduated from Oxford, and in so doing lost his U.S. citizenship. After the war he was reinstated, and brought back a Belgian baroness for a wife; yet he had also lost a leg and relocated out west for the sake of rehabilitation on a ranch. The baroness left him because she did not take to the west; and he widowed a second wife when he shot himself (badly) in 1922.

His father (one presumes) had him located in the family vault in Druid Ridge. But more importantly, he worked with our old friend Hans Schuler to create a special monument for junior. The statue was cast by the Roman Bronze Works in New York (figure 8), and Schuler dated the work to 1924 (figure 7).

The statue depicts Phidippides (figures 11, 12) and is labeled in archaic Attic Greek: ΦΕΙΔΙΠΠΙΔΕΣ ΑΘΕΝΑΙΟΣ. In classical Attic we’d probably write Φειδιππίδης ὁ Ἀθηναῖος, “Phidippides the Athenian.”

As is clear in figures 9-10, the figure holds aloft the palm of victory. That is an imagined anecdotal detail from the historical story but also alludes to the deceased junior having led a well-lived life. See, incidentally, that Schuler’s Phidippides owes something to the pose of the dancing faun in figure 5 in my post, Aspirations.

In figure 12 we can see that Phidippides has dropped a sprig of laurel in order to clutch at his heart. Both of the major symbols of victory are thus present.

Symbolically, the Phidippides bears within it a constellation of interlocking ideas, Christian and classical: the notion of victory from the story of the historical/legendary Phidippides; the race (or ‘course’) from St. Paul, and also the first ‘marathon;’ the palm and laurels from conventional (classical) iconography for victory; and the notion of death as terminally punctuating the race of the well lived, faithful life. A grace note is that junior served in World War I on the winning side, a fact that is celebrated in the plaque on the statue: Theodore sr., like many fathers before him, takes whatever the record offers in order to make the most attractive presentation of his dead son’s short life. (figure 13).

Figure 13. Marburg Phidippides. Detail: dedication plaque. Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, MD. Photo: author.

The overwrought inscription is hard to read, both physically and because the text in the final 8 lines barely makes any sense (to me):

In loving memory of
Capt. Theodore Marburg
British Royal Flying Corps
and Air Force
November 27, 1893 – February 24, 1922
[Royal Flying Corps insignia]

Follow the Flag
Too long it has been absent from that
line in France where once again an
Attila has been stopped. And yet
though not visible to the eye, it is
and has been there from the beginning.
It is there in the hearts of those
fifty thousand American boys who saw
their duty clear and moved up to it.

Figure 14. Theodore Marburg, jr., and wife, 1916. Photo: public domain. Library of Congress. Wikimedia Commons.

You see Marburg jr. and the baroness in figure 14.

As a post scriptum, and thanks to the courtesy of the Harvard Museums, we can see another landmark constellation of the concepts of war (World War I), victory, death, the laurel, and the palm in John Singer Sargent’s famous 1922 mural, Death and Victory, for Harvard’s fallen WWI soldiers in the Widener (figure 15).

Figure 15. John Singer Sargent, Death and Victory. Widener Library, Harvard University. Photo: Courtesy Harvard Museums.

The caption to the mural is also worth recording here: “Happy those who with a glowing faith in one embrace clasped death and victory.” The reference to faith in connection with death and victory has, as we have seen, Pauline roots.


I’m one of those people who likes flowers, even when they’re carved representations. So I take rando photos of monuments with floral decoration (and leaves and stalks). Here are some I particularly like. I’ve used a gallery, so click on the ones you want to see. All of the photos are by me. Fancy B/W images!

Arlington National: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.
Congressional: Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Druid Ridge: Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, MD.
Green Mount: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD.
Hollywood: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.
Mount Auburn: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA.
Mt. Hebron: Mount Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA.
Mount Olivet: Mount Olivet Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Prospect Hill: Prospect Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Rock Creek: Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Union-Flourtown: Union Cemetery, Flourtown, PA.
Union-Leesburg: Union Cemetery, Leesburg, VA.
West Laurel Hill: West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA.

The Ida May Vare stained glass portrait

Buried in her own mausoleum in West Laurel Hill, not far from that of her father and mother, William Scott (1867-1934) and Ida Morris (1870-1938) Vare, is the luckless Ida May Vare (1898-1920), who died of tonsilitis in Beijing, China. She had made the trip to accompany her father, who was on a trade delegation from the House of Representatives, to which he belonged.

Figure 1. Ida May Vare mausoleum. Detail: stained glass window. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

Inside her mausoleum is a stained glass window with a portrait of Vare being guided by an angelic figure (see the giant, stylized wings) who holds a lamp of revelation. She’s being guided to peace, as the window states (pax). As in other windows, the detailed work (Vare’s and the angel’s faces, the hands, the lamp) has been painted upon glass pieces, whereas the rest is depicted by abstractly mixed-color glass pieces cut to present the parts of wings, etc. It’s actually quite pretty.

We know it’s her portrait because her name is in a register at the bottom, and because the face in the window matches her picture which can be seen at her entry in Find a Grave dot com. Also there is an exterior shot of her mausoleum.

Her father, who doubtless paid for her mausoleum, was a multi-term U.S. representative for Pennsylvania and was ultimately elected to the U.S. Senate in 1927, whence he was soon bounced when charges of electoral corruption caught up with him in 1929. You can see his smug image here, as well as a picture of his mausoleum.

An outdoor portrait bust

Figure 1. Raine monument. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

I have by now seen many a funerary portrait. I’ve seen busts that were made for the mausoleum, and others that I suspect were de-accessioned from the family collection and lodged in the tomb. And, of course, there are the many bas-relief portraits, and even a few bronze busts that were built into, or atop of, a monument. I’ve even seen a few full length portrait figures. But what I’ve not yet seen is a monument with a niche built into its outer surface to hold a portrait bust on a bust foot.

Figure 2. Raine monument. Detail: closeup of portrait niche. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

Frederick Raine was from Minden, Prussia, born in May 1821, and died in February 1898. His wife Pamelia lived to 1911, and so I suspect that she was responsible for this monument. In any event, accompanying the bust are a number of conventional images: palm frond of victory for a life well lived; Easter lily for resurrection, and disembodied quill writing the deeds of his life in conjunction with the symbol of resurrection. The sum of it all is: “he was a good Christian (due reward to be administered).”

That he might have been, but what detains us here is his portrait bust. It’s marble, and predictably, since it’s exposed to the elements, it’s decaying. The face has largely melted, and while the clothing still possesses some sharpness of detail, one can see that water has attacked it wherever it could get a purchase.

Figure 3. Raine monument. Detail: portrait bust. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

The face is oval, though the tall forehead, merging into a bald pate, gives the head a round look. Short hair remains at the temples and above the ears. What is left of the ears does not stick out. There is a little adipose under the chin, and the naso-labial folds are prominent. The close-set, deeply carved eyes appear to have had crows feet. The face is clean shaven except for a walrus mustache that curls down around the corners of the mouth. The mouth itself is not wide, and with the close-set eyes it gives the face a narrow, pinched look. Not enough material remains for me to judge whether there were other signs of age: slackened skin, sagging jowls, pouches under the eyes, and so forth. The neck is smooth.

The clothing is the usual package for the late-nineteenth century: heavy coat (buttoned up) over a barely visible vest, with a bow tie with a fat knot over a turned-out collar. It’s not clear to me whether the collar ever had points or not. If it did, those vulnerable protuberances have not survived. The modeling of the cloth of the coat indicates a stocky, but not fat torso underneath.

The look appears to have been one of polite interest without an emotional engagement, which is also the default for these portraits. The bust foot is round and typical of these portraits. I was able to get quite close, but I saw no traces of a signature on the bust. I don’t think it would survive the weathering the object has undergone, but as you can imagine, I wasn’t about to get in there and shift the thing around to look.

And I could have, which brings me to an important point. The damage to this bust appears almost entirely due to natural weathering and not vandalism. I am frankly astonished that the bust is still there.

What does such an unusual monument tell us? Well, before looking for an answer, it is important to acknowledge that I don’t know whether the bust was created for this monument, or whether it was taken from the household and incorporated into a monument built to receive it. It is possible to say that the monument was designed to receive a bust. A niche like that serves a purpose and is not decorative in itself. There are plenty of obelisks that have bas-relief portraits on their surfaces, even in Green Mount, so there were models for the idea of obelisk-plus-portrait, even if not for the bust-in-niche type here.

Figure 5. Harrah mausoleum. Photo: author.
Figure 4. Bowman mausoleum. Photo: J.W. Ocker (with permission).

One can point to mausolea with formally incorporated portraits of the entire family, or the husband and wife, such as the Bowman mausoleum in Cuttingsville, VT (figure 4) or the Harrah mausoleum in Bala Cynwyd, PA (figure 5). I’m certain in the case of the first, and reasonably sure in the case of the second of those mausolea that the busts were made on the occasion of the construction of the mausoleum to fill ready-made niches.

Then there is the Rouss mausoleum in Winchester, VA, where the mausoleum has not been adapted specifically to hold portrait busts, but busts have been added in a relatively formal way by placing them on seriously massive free-standing columns in the chamber (figure 6). They are not matched, as the Bowman and Harrah busts are (see the bust feet), and in addition, smaller busts of the sons of the principals have been placed in something of an ad-hoc way on a shelf at the rear of the mausoleum.

Figure 6. Rouss mausoleum. Photo: author.

My working hypothesis these days is that Rouss had the busts moved into the mausoleum which was built on the occasion of his wife’s death in 1899 (he died in 1902), and that they had been household decorations before that.

I don’t know what percentage of the motivation for putting busts into a mausoleum was to have an image of the deceased that the grieving could take comfort in viewing, and how much was to leave a lasting “Ozymandias” record of him/her/themselves. Of course, mixed motives are entirely possible and probable.

Raine raises the same questions. Certainly Mrs. Raine, who substantially outlived him, had a monument built to feature a portrait bust, as mentioned above. She could not afford, or refused to pay for a mausoleum, but clearly wanted Raine’s portrait to be visible. But why not have the portrait carved on the surface of the monument? Was there an obvious bright line in prestige and status between portraits in the round and bas-relief ones? To be sure, a portrait in the round is more complicated and expensive than a bas relief. Yet we can find people of indisputable wealth or status opting for a bas-relief, such as on the Walters’ monument in Green Mount (in her case, in bronze).

Mostly, I don’t think these questions can be answered definitively. But I do look to Victorian sentimentality—think of those little lockets they carried around for decades with images (and maybe a snippet of hair) of dead family members—and the immediacy of grief in the face of the recent death of a (say) spouse as perhaps offering clues. Whatever hopes for immortality the portraits sustained, I think the survivor took comfort in being able to come to the tomb (something people regularly did then and now) and look upon a likeness of the dead. In Bowman’s case we have explicit evidence that he did just that.

The Maria Scheuch portrait in Glenwood Cemetery

A recent trip back to Glenwood Cemetery to catch fall foliage reminded me of an eternal verity about a landmark, richly appointed cemetery: you’ll always spot something new and interesting.

Figure 1. Scheuch plot. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

In this case, it was the fine portrait of Maria Scheuch in her family plot (figure 1). I’m also growing more interested in the landscape architecture of individual plots, which is why I offer you this sorta panorama-y shot here. There’s clearly not a lot going on in this plot compared to some. But at closer range, the monument is a bit more handsome (figure 2).

Figure 2. Scheuch monument. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

The monument may have been envisioned as bearing two tondo portraits originally, or perhaps George Scheuch, who outlived his wife substantially, took advantage of the shape of the monument to have it adapted for the insertion of the bronze portrait in 1892. I suppose he always intended to get his own portrait made but (as happens) never got around to it, and when he died no one could be troubled to do it.

Figure 3. Scheuch monument. Detail: portrait of Maria Scheuch. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

The portrait (figure 3) is of a handsome woman upon whom the signs of age have gently crept. Her broad forehead bears no creases, but the jowls are just beginning to sag, and the naso-labial folds are becoming prominent. The thin upper lip and downturned mouth gives the face a certain asperity. She has crows feet and is beginning to develop pouches under the eyes, most visibly under her right. There is a little adipose under the chin (I sympathise!). The eyes are widely open and look out at the wayfarer, though the head itself is averted a little to the right. The arches of the brows are not very prominent, and the eyebrows have been left as mere suggestive rounded ridges. The hair has been tightly pulled back from a central part, emphasizing the oval shape of the face. The hair is drawn back over the ears, which do not stick out prominently.

In profile (figures 4, 5), the flat facial plane belies the cubic geometry of the head. The signs of aging mentioned above are more visible in the right profile, and on the whole the right side of the head is better modeled than the left. The nose is straight and of medium length.

The gaze is frank and unemotional, bordering on stern. The artist has not attempted to infuse the portrait with any warmth or personality. I suppose that it was modeled from photographs, maybe one frontal, and one from the right; people adopted a fairly blank look in those period photographs. Between the hair pulled back and the dress buttoned up with lace collar (figure 6) I do detect a bit of a button-down personality. The cameo at her throat has been rubbed to the point that the patina has disappeared at its center.

Figure 6. Scheuch monument. Detail: Maria Scheuch portrait, clothing elements. Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.


Time to look at some nautical tombstones with an astounding treat at the end.

The “Commodore” (love the scare quotes on your own monument) owned a commercial fleet and celebrates here a ship named for a member of his family (figures 1, 2). If you’ve seen one of these before, it’s likeliest to have been this one, which is a pretty hoary chestnut as these things go. The ship is a barque, I believe.

Another barque for Captain R.A. Wamack in Hollywood Cemetery. His square sails at the top are not quite fully open, so stiff is the breeze. But the sheets are nice and crisp on this stone even though it’s weathered, and the pennants are drawn rightly with the breeze, which is coming at us. It’s not clear to me that the Thornton flags aren’t shown trailing the mast. The treatment of the water is very suggestive here.

Figure 4. Nikolaos Charokopos monument. Oakwood Cemetery, Falls Church, VA. Photo: author.

Nikolaos Charokopos either owned or worked on a cargo freighter. I flattened my photo to B&W to minimize my dumb reflection on it.

Lieutenant Commander James Marthon never forgot his touchdown pass in the big game. He was in the rigging of the Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s flagship in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 (figures 5, 6, 7). As in, “damn the torpedoes.’ I suppose the guy who takes pot shots at the enemy with a swivel cannon in the crow’s nest is as important as anyone on the ship, but Marthon was not about to let anyone forget it. One can imagine his table talk.

Very interesting is the lengthy, lengthy naval service record on the north face of the plinth. Most interesting of all is the broken column in the form of THAT VERY MAST atop which Marthon was once perched.

But I’ve saved the best for last, Captain Nathan Sargent’s wondrous foundering ship monument with the angel of death blowing the trumpet over it (figures 8-15).

Figure 8. Sargent monument. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

I cannot get enough of this monument. The bow of the foundering ship, in sandstone, is in the last seconds of being overcome by heavy seas (figures 8, 9), and the angel of death sounds a grim blast over it.

The tan sandstone forms a nice contrast with the base in grey granite and the patinated statue. Unfortunately, the sandstone is beginning to spall here and there, though it is otherwise still pretty crisp.

The angel of death does double duty, standing in also as the conventional grieving figure that scatters flowers (or here, laurels, figure 14) at the grave. So, if you see it, in one guise the conceit is that the angel is present at the shipwreck sounding the trumpet, and in the other is present mourning alongside us at the grave. It’s a nice, multivalent conceit.

One should add that there is a metaphorical layer beneath the surface. The foundering ship is the dying (or dead) mortal—in this case Sargent—overcome not by the inexorable sea but by equally implacable death. In fact, Sargent did not go down with his, or anyone else’s ship but died a natural death on land, proving that the entire conceit must be read primarily on this metaphorical level.

The statue is signed by the talented and ubiquitous Hans Schuler, whose work can be seen in profusion in Baltimore cemeteries. He signs the statue 1911, 4 years after Sargent’s death, and accordingly we must give credit, I think, to his excellent wife Isabel Hill Sargent for commissioning this splendid and astounding monument.

Some cutters are more handy than others

It’s a fact of life that human hands are difficult to draw and model. I was reminded of this as I perused my photos from St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Washington.

Two handsome mid-century monuments (figures 1, 2), well past the neoclassical and even art deco periods. The Peniston sculptor incised a fairly decent pair of hands in the figure of Jesus in Gethsemone (figure 3).

Figure 3. Peniston monument. Detail: folded hands of Jesus. St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

There’s one stray bit, I think, at about the knuckle of the little finger of the right hand, but it’s not a bad rendition of interlocked fingers, especially at a distance.

Figure 4. DiBuchianico monument. St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

By contrast, the hands of the DiBuchianico Jesus (figure 4), in the same (but reflected) pose are, ahem, ‘mannered,’ to say the least. The cutter knew that he was not up to interwoven fingers—no problem with a little self-knowledge there. But everything about the proportions and articulation of these hands is pretty badly off. It’s a pity: the cutter has a neat way of doing drapery with some big looping curves.

The cover photo is of the hands of the subject of an Attic funerary stele in the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus. The photo is by Giovanni dall’Orto (with permission). Wikimedia Commons.


Three monuments, three versions of Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s bronze Aspiration. Figure 1 shows the original (of 1926), in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo in a striking photograph by Doug Rife. According to Douglas Keister in his Going Out in Style (p. 122: see bibliography below), Frishmuth “sculpted” the figure in an edition of three in 1926. He doesn’t say it, but I infer that these were bronzes cast from a sculpted clay model, and that this is one of them. Google doesn’t seem to know where any others might be. [See appendix 1]

Figure 2 shows a sensitive copy on the Berwind monument in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. The excellent Sculpture of a City (p. 302: see bibliography) devotes a note to the Berwind monument. It was commissioned and installed in 1933, sculpted by the Presbrey-Leland Studios in New York. It seems, therefore, that Frishmuth licensed her image for reproduction, and this fine version in stone is one of those.

Figure 3 offers another version in the Manns monument (of 1944, I suspect) in Druid Ridge Cemetery, in Pikesville, MD. I don’t think anyone else has noted this version yet.

Frishmuth was a talented sculptor with a penchant for female nudes: she liked to explore the dynamics of motion, muscles in tension, and visually interesting poses. Her 1923 statue The Vine is on permanent exhibition in the Smithsonian American Art Museum (figure 4) and exemplifies her style. There is also one in the Met; and others elsewhere.

Figure 4. Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, The Vine (1923). Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photo: author.

One might be tempted to think Frishmuth intended The Vine to be erotic, since it’s nude and the female figure meets conventional standards of beauty. That sort of thing is in the eye of the beholder, but if you step back and recall that it is lifeless bronze, you’ll pretty quickly see that the artist is playing with the shapes of muscles in tension, their attachments to bones, and the shapes of the bones underneath. To what ends can the human form be stretched? Can the human form be molded into an abstract series of curves? Can the pose be made visually arresting from all viewpoints? There’s probably also an abstract reference to the joy and freedom in wine and dance, but that’s not what I’m interested in here.

If these physical details of pose and articulation are what you’re interested in, you’re pretty much going to have to sculpt nudes or their equivalent, as in the Aspiration figure, where the cloth is sculpted to appear so sheer that it emphasizes rather than covers the female form. I’d describe the style as influenced by Hellenistic Greek forms like the dancing faun in figure 5. He was made to be interesting from all sides, too.

Figure 5. House of the Faun. Detail: statue of faun in Atrium (copy). Pompeii, IT. Photo: Mentnafunangann. CC-BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

The dancing faun offers a study of the male figure (from the atrium of the ‘House of the Faun’ in Pompeii) analogous to Frishmuth’s study of the female form. You can make out similarities in the exploration of the twisting human shape, the taut musculature, and visually interesting posing of the limbs.

So, now we can turn to Aspiration.

Figure 1 (repeated). Rogers monument. Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY. Photo: Doug Rife (with permission).

The photograph in figure 1 is excellent in that it captures the statue in a light that picks out the contrastingly light patina of the flesh of the figure against the darker green background of the chiton and cloak. The light does not help us see the treatment of the torso in any detail, though. Nevertheless the photo reveals Frishmuth’s talent in the expression on the figure’s face and the turn of her head. It is clear that the clothing is meant to be sheer and reveal the torso underneath. The pose in general is of a figure straining to reach her aspirations while buffeted by winds of one sort or another.

Figure 2 (repeated). Berwind monument. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA. Photo: author.

By contrast, the winter light in Philadelphia when I took the photograph in figure 2 does a good job of revealing the sculptural treatment of the torso, though at the expense of the face, which is half obscured in shadow. So let’s have a look at the female figure here.

The pose, perhaps by dancer Desha Delteil, who modeled for The Vine, reveals Frishmuth’s usual interests. The figure is on point, with all of the muscles in tension. We can see this because the drapery has been carved with an exquisite sheerness that reveals and emphasizes the masses and outlines of the female figure. As an example of the former, see the shadows that help express the modeling of the torso (figures 6, 7), and for the latter, see the line that expresses the outline of the left hip, thigh, and calf (figure 8). The artificiality of the tensing of the muscles is revealed by the lack of tension in the toes—Aspiration is literally taking off (figure 9). This is a pose we see in the opposite direction in Weinman‘s Descending Night (c. 1915: figure 10). This business with female figures taking off and alighting goes back to classical models, but that’s the tale for another day.

I genuinely like the apse with its little clouds and stars that protects the granite statue from the rain. It’s a little stylized and maybe not consonant with the style of the figure, but, well, I like it nonetheless, and if the figure is going to reach, I suppose it ought to reach for the stars. In any event, it frames the figure better, in my opinion, than the granite slab behind the bronze in Buffalo.

Turning to the Manns monument, while it is better than 99.99% of all other monuments, it’s a different kettle of fish. Allowing for the scattered light which kills contrast in my photos, and my failure to get all my shots from the same directions as in my Berwind photos, it’s still possible to see that whereas the Berwind figure was sculpted by a talented artisan, the Manns figure was copied by a skilled workman.

The drapery is much more opaque and the form does not emerge as in the Berwind figure. It is also more voluminous to in fact de-emphasize the female form. The right breast is insensitively modeled—it looks hard and unreal, like a generic appliqué. The line of the left leg is partly disguised by folds in the drapery. I presume this was due to the decay of the neoclassical movement by the time this was carved, with fewer artisans able to sensitively work in the style; and perhaps a misguided sense of propriety.

Now my task is to get up to Buffalo in order to see the Rogers monument in person, so that I can make a more sensitive comparison between it and the Berwind figure. For the moment, it’s a pleasure to see a work of art on a funerary monument, and to see once again how much the final product in a replica depends upon the hand of the artisan.

Fairmount Park Art Association. 1974. Sculpture of a City: Philadelphia’s Treasures in Bronze and Stone.
Keister, D. 1997. Going Out in Style. The Architecture of Eternity.

Appendix 1

In The Book of Presbrey-Leland Memorials (1932, Presbrey-Leland Studios), a catalog of finished projects by this very prominent studio, an image in black and white (figure 16) of a monument that looks identical to the Rogers monument in Forest Lawn (figure 1) is printed on p. 133 with the following text:

Miss Harriet Frishmuth ranks among the foremost women sculptors of the world and in this bronze for the Morton family memorial she has symbolized Aspiration in the uplifted arm and head of the figure which emerges from the deep shadow—the veil of life. PL24165 for Miss Harriet Frishmuth, erected at Windsorville, Conn.

A Book of Presbrey-Leland Memorials (1932, Presbrey-Leland Studios), p. 133.
Figure 16. Morton monument, Harriet W. Frishmuth, Aspiration, p. 133 of A Book of Presprey-Leland Memorials, 1932, Presbrey-Leland Studios. Scan: author.

There is a Windsor, CT, and a Windsorville Cemetery, but there is no web presence suggesting the existence of such a monument there. It is a nice photo of the statue when it was still the brownish-black of the unpatinated bronze. The photo would seem to be dispositive that such a statue existed in addition to the Rogers one.

Olde school!

Figure 1. Anna White monument. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.

The common fate of all mankind does not much bother me as I make my way through cemeteries. But I do get resentful when I come across tombstones made of a material that was destined never to stand up to the elements: marble, literally melting under the attack of acidic rain (figure 2); Victorian red stones rotting and spalling (figure 3); and slate monuments which also peel away in layers under the attacks of frost and water. There are also the terrible results of destructive cleaning methods, but that’s not my subject here.

Have a close look at the stone in figure 2: there were hundreds of characters on that stone, a veritable bonanza of idiosyncrasy, now hopelessly illegible to me, at any rate. There are the remnants of ten headings falling into two columns: do you see the traces of the large Roman numerals? Were these the ten commandments? The Bill of Rights? I’m betting on the commandments with expository material, but Agh!

Still, a fresh marble monument can be very beautiful (figure 4),

Figure 4. Hoffman monument. Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

and the red stone, when crisp, has a very rich, even velvety feel (figure 5).

Figure 5. Donaldson monument (base). Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

And as figure 1 shows, the slate slabs were, when fresh, quite crisp and beautiful, with appropriately somber coloring. One sees why the folks chose them. It was only after a few generations, when they saw how fragile the slate turned out to be, that they went to other materials.

But kudos to Anna Wills Baugh Brewster White (or her commemorators) for the choice of slate, the olde timey, elegant script, and the convallaria maialis, Lily of the Valley!

Figure 6. White monument. Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD. Photo: author.