Monday, 3 October 2011

Gravestone Preservation Workshop -- Things I Learned on the Road

This semester I am taking on on-line university class on Historic Conservation and Preservation of Historic Sites and Monuments. For the course I had to watch a video on the restoration of the Ta Reach statue at Angkor Wat. The techniques, material and ethical questions that the restorers faced were ones I could relate to because I had just recently been introduced to these through a Gravestone Preservation Workshop in Butte, Montana.

This was the reason for my September road trip -- to attend this course. I am so glad I did. Many of our historic cemeteries, monuments and headstones are in need of work. But it has to be done in a way suitable for historic structures and respecting the authenticity and heritage of these places.

The course was six hours long and I can't believe everything we learned in that short time. The instructor was given carte blance by the cemetery owner to work on any headstones he saw fit. The first one he chose was a marble piece that, while standing, was actually in six pieces.

By the end of the day our group had the base lifted out of the soil and balanced and all of the pieces rejoined (this picture shows the end result). As you can see we also started the process of filling missing gaps in the stone with mortar.

Look carefully at the base of this next headstone. When we started working on this monument, the base was buried up to the top of the stone along the front side. Because the monument was leaning, gravity was enough for the top of the cross to break off (you can see the line). The monument was leveled (with copious amounts of gravel and sand placed under it) and the cross re-attached.

Following the course, I had some time to walk and drive around some of the historic cemeteries in Butte. There are some incredible monuments here.

As you can see, this section in split in half. The people on the left have white table headstones. The persons on the right have large black granite headstones. Why the division? Nuns are buried on the left; priests on the right.

I was struck not only by the beauty of this one but by the sculpture of the dog at the bottom. This person wished to ensure his family pet was always with him.

There are many different ways that family areas are denoted in a cemetery. Sometimes they are fenced. Sometimes they have monogrammed stones to show the area. Or you could create a monumental wall such as this one, adorned with two angels, to mark the family's area.

Or maybe something subtle like this to delineate your family's section of the cemetery?

The course gave me a new respect for the work being done to care for our historic monuments (buildings, statues, headstones and all). Thank you to everyone out there doing this work and doing it well.

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