Soul in the Stone: Cemetery Art from America’s Heartland

John Gary Brown

This essay on mortality and materiality addresses the inevitability of death and the impulse to survive in the hearts and minds of those who follow. Straightforward black-and-white photographs of gravestones are accompanied by thoughtful, and often factually detailed, captions which speculate on and interpret the varied desires expressed through sculpture and poetry found in cemeteries. “Life Is, Death Only Dies,” says one; another stone immortalizes, “I’d rather be drag racing.” In one Kansas graveyard an overstuffed limestone armchair suggests that the dead are just waiting in the parlor for the living to join them. The morose and the sensual are given equal standing in some monuments where young women dressed in clinging gowns are depicted as surrogate mourners, continuously standing in for absent family members. The author’s opening chapters on the history of burial, religious and secular iconography, and ethnic and economic factors are instructive. Discussion of children’s graves, folk art monuments, and markers commemorating worldly concerns are gracefully handled by the author. But the photographs of the monuments, which are often touching and sometimes astonishing, are the heart of this book. JTW

Publisher: Univ. Press of Kansas
Hardback: 232 pages