How to describe the most common motif on Puritan burial markers: symbolic, direct, folk-artsy, charming, blank-eyed, stylized, humorous, eerie…Creative. You may not see them in your neck of the woods, as their Winged Selves flock mostly in New England. Depending on their hometown, and its proximity to colonial cities, their styles vary a lot, even to the point of becoming abstract designs. Carvers imitated one another, and also did their own thing.
My own neighbors in Boston’s first English burial ground, next to the historic site where I work, are on the “realistic” end of the spectrum: proper, Toothy skulls with feathery wings. Each has its own personality, and I imagine the artists enjoying that chance to be Creative. The Puritan lifestyle was not known for decorative opportunity.
Doesn’t the one with the winged hourglass perched on its head look Sheepish?
The punky one with flame wings has a Sassy smile. Some have Clark Gable grins, and some have rather spider-leg-looking wings.
The one with the very muscle-bound shoulders also has an egg-head, so brings the brains and the brawn. A few just look quite Stoned. (I know. Inherited the pun gene from Grampa.) They appeared slowly under the Carvers’ crafty hands hundreds of years ago and watch the changing world as they soften, chip, and fade.
When I wander through the old grounds of the city, I like giving them these moods and ‘tudes. And appreciating them, Creative Acts of the past that are part of my home’s landscape.
I also have one on a T-shirt, which I wear when I’m at work next door. The shirt is a crowd favorite and just flies off the shelves. (Sorry not sorry. Papa would be proud.) So they’re part of our wardrobes, too. Imagine Cotton Mather, that old Puritan barrel of monkeys, seeing his first name of the label of a graphic T.
The Gravestone Girls make groovy fridge magnets, isolating elements from both simple and elaborate stone art in our area. They do no rubbing and no damage, but they do a lot that is Creative and Fun. This is Smilin’ Isaac!
The “wingies” make for sweet eating at Halloween, too, thanks to the Creativity of one of my colleagues, who seems to be an Artistic in Every Way.
And most recently, I saw “wingy skull” as quaint and dramatic body art inked on the shoulder of a visitor to the chapel, who kindly showed it off.
The thing as wonderful as still having them to love and learn from is giving them new Life in so many creative ways. Hey, boss, tote bags…
These stones can all be found in King’s Chapel Burial Ground on Tremont Street in Boston. You can learn much about them from James Deetz’s interesting book In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life. The work of the Gravestone Girls is at https://gravestonegirls.com/. THANK YOU to DeLIGHTful visitor Stacie Moore for sharing her ink and to the Brilliant Beam that is Lauren Bergnes Sell for the yummy photo of her work.