Tag: Folk Art

  • Master of the Curlicue I in Canonsburg

    Oak Spring Cemetery

    In memory of
    James R. Sinclair
    who departed this life
    Jan. the 21, AD 1843.
    aged 5 months.

    Two early-settler graveyards at opposite ends of Canonsburg have tombstones inscribed by some of the same local craftsmen. One of them, who worked in the 1830s and 1840s, is very easy to identify by three obvious quirks of his style:

    1. He writes almost exclusively in italic letters.
    2. He begins each inscription with a very distinctive capital I with curlicues.
    3. He makes the abbreviation “AD” into a single character, with the right-hand stroke of the A serving as the left-hand stroke of the D.

    In addition, if you paid him well enough, he was capable of some fine decorative folk-art reliefs.

    The Giffin family, buried in Speer Spring Cemetery, employed him almost exclusively:

    In memory of
    who departed this life
    in the 19 year of his
    April 22 AD 1842

    In memory of
    who departed this life
    in the 53d year of his
    Aug. 12, AD 1841.

    memory of
    Samuel Webster Giffin
    who departed this life
    Sept. 18th, AD 1838, aged
    9 months and 25 days

    memory of
    Consort of Andrew H. Giffin
    who departed this life
    May the 15th AD 1842, in
    the 36th year of her age
    — — —

    Following his usual method of naming anonymous craftsmen after a distinguishing characteristic of their work, Father Pitt will call this artist the Master of the Curlicue I.

    To round out the Giffin family plot, we include one broken tombstone done by a different craftsman:

    Memory of
    GIFFIN, who—
    departed this life,
    Febr. 11th, 1836
    in the 13th year of
    his age.

  • Morgan Tombstones, Bethany Cemetery

    In Memory of
    Who departed this life
    [Marc]h the 7th 1836
    [in the —]th year of his age

    Here is a pair of tombstones by the same extraordinary folk artist—and, because he actually signed one of them, we know his name: H. Savage. Both are badly damaged, but they form a pair side by side, so old Pa Pitt guesses that the illegible stone marks the resting place of Mrs. Billingsley Morgan. Unlike most Western Pennsylvania tombstones of the 1830s, these are handsomely carved in relief, much like the famous New England tombstones of the colonial era, but without the flying skulls.

    Even this unusually artistic and ambitious stonecutter did not sketch out his lettering before beginning the inscription, so that he ran out of space for the name “MORGAN” on Billingsley Morgan’s tombstone.

  • C. H. and W. H. Tombstone, Mount Pisgah Cemetery

    A priceless piece of folk art, this memorial to two children who died in the late 1800s was carefully carved by a barely literate family member or friend who makes the letter N backwards. The carver could not carve delicately enough to spell out the names, so we get only initials, which doubtless were enough for the family as long as memory endured.

    Old Pa Pitt calls this “priceless” not necessarily because of the skill involved—it is not an especially skillful work—but because it documents how ordinary people of the late 1800s imagined a tombstone should look. It is clearly an imitation of the tombstones of fifty years or more before, complete with a little tree laboriously scratched into the stone for each of the two deceased.

    Father Pitt is having a little trouble working out the dates. The obvious way of reading the stone is to divide it in left and right halves:

    C. H.
    26 • DIED
    OCT • 6

    W. H.
    FEB • 19

    You can see the difficulty: this reading has W. H. dying before he was born. Perhaps the stonecutter has recorded only the birthdays and omitted the years of birth, in which case we do not know for certain even that these were children.

    The picture was taken when the stone was strongly backlit. Father Pitt has boosted the local contrast and used various other manipulations to make the inscription more legible.

    You might have trouble finding this stone if you went looking for it. It is well into the overgrown woods section of the Mount Pisgah Cemetery, and Father Pitt actually used his foot to hold back a hickory seedling in order to get an unobstructed picture.