Evoking Saints or Sinners – Creating Funerary Arts


 It’s that time of year again when the season changes, the shadows are longer, and Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations are near. It can be a time of rejoicing that the heat of summer is waning or a time of longing for the sunny days we will miss. For me it is a time to prepare for a meetup of some very creative, energizing people. Our meetup this month happens to fall on Halloween and we were planning an outing to a cemetery, so instead of changing the date, it made sense to go for it! That’s how I found myself wandering among the graves on a glorious autumn day.
 cemetery tree

The morning sunshine was a mellow, golden saffron color. The large oak arms of the trees branched out from the thick crinkled trunks and created dark shadow graphics across the graves.  The birds were active and vocal, the caretakers were watering lawns, picking up stray rubbish and dry scattered leaves. A grave visitor arrived and quietly made his intention. Time seemed to slow and it was a serene intersection of the living and the dead.

Folk Art and the The Texture of Time

I spoke with a few people, other curious wanderers and workers. All were generous with help and directions in finding particular gravesites. I thought to myself that one can meet the nicest folks at a cemetery. Angels and crosses and plastic flowers abound too. The artistic styles of commemorating the dead have definitely changed through time. After researching the topic, I still wonder if we do it all to help the living or to honor those who have passed on? Both I suppose. It makes us, the living, feel better to honor those who must go on.

From the variety and styles of the memorials it doesn’t take long to see that personalization is the mode of our day. There is a tendency these days to add a person’s image, an icon of their favorite pastime, or even a life-size statue. These defining visuals will help future onlookers to understand the person memorialized on this spot, in this era. The cemetery I visited that day had once been part of a larger church cemetery, but had been used to bury the “undesirable” persons. The “good” and faithful were buried across the way in grander style. No longer ruled by religious iconography, there was an explosion of creativity.


Long ago I rambled through colonial cemeteries in a very old part of our country. These people had lived before the United States of America existed. Their environment was no doubt harsh. Graves of infants and children were plentiful. Adornment consisted of winged skulls or cherub faces.  All headstones showed distress and aging, most were hard to read because of corrosion, and the old script was sometimes illegible. But as I spent time trying to read the headstones, trying to understand, it was somehow comforting to know we are part of a culture that values a person after he or she has passed on. We take the time to tuck them into the earth and hope that someone will do that for us too.



2 comments… add one
  • beautifully written with good insights…..

  • Thanks Connie – looking forward to seeing you and your latest creations!

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