Carving a family gravestone
December 02, 2014
My father died Sept 15, 2000 and shortly afterward George agreed to carve his gravestone. The difficulty was in deciding what to carve for his in-laws. Carving his own parents stone came fairly easily. The style and imagery just seemed to fall together, consistent with many other pieces George had carved. He and our son, Ben, worked together to carve the family tree within a celtic cross on a 9 foot tall piece of limestone.
The stone for my parents proved to be more difficult for various reasons. Our family is larger than George’s so the idea of a family tree wasn’t possible. As each year rolled by, the subject of my parent’s stone would be discussed and ideas for images would come and go as nothing ever seemed to fit. I suppose I just wanted George to find the magic and he was hoping for inspiration from me, kind of a vicious circle of sorts. In 2012 George hit upon the essence of my parents, the idea of a stack of books on top of the stone came to be, a means of representing both of them through their love of books and the many memories we all share of having The World Book or The Oxford Dictionary pulled out during dinner to prove one point or another. The sketch was shown to my Mother, who felt it to be just perfect.
I have found it difficult to accept the fact that the stone was not completed in time for Mom to see. In writing this story and discussing it with George he said something just yesterday that has given me great peace in this regard. He said, “I didn’t want to carve a stone to impress your parents, I want to give a stone to honor them.” This moves me deeply.
Once the design was established, permission from the cemetery was acquired to create the stone in the size George had specked. A piece of Indiana limestone was specially cut and delivered to our studio weighing in at just 200 lbs or so less than a Prius, a mere 2900 lbs. It was pretty stunning to see and George’s initial reaction was “what have I gotten myself into, I can’t screw this up. It’s a big rock! ” Before we dared to move it with our forklift, George dusted off the plaque showing weight limits and gingerly lifted it a bit to see how much strain could be felt.
The very first thing George did was to clean his studio and make new tools from punches he buys at the hardware store. He heats them up, hammers them into the shapes he wants, cuts teeth into them with a file, heats them again to re-temper the metal and then quenches them in water.
As you can see the second step was sketching the image onto the stone. Sketching their birth and death dates was an “odd thing to do” as it seemed as though it was no time at all for a life. It brought the brevity of life into reality for George. Their little spot in history, their time slot. Quite profound and intimate when kneeling on what is to be their marker of life and death.
He then took small samples of limestone and sandblasted ROE to test if that would work. Not wanting to hand carve each letter he and Todd, who has worked with us for 25 years, created a means of tenting the stone in order to sandblast my parent’s names and the book titles chosen for the spines of the books. One book will say “Marley 1998-2014″ in honor of their sweet little cocker spaniel. Each of us, the 4 children of Joan and Mayo Roe, has given suggestions for the book titles. One will definitely be The World Book as Mom used to sell it. Another may be The Lincoln Library or De Re Metallica. It is possible that Winnie the Pooh could be in the mix as Mom used to read it to us at bedtime in her beautiful English accent. I so remember all of us piled onto our beds, while Mom read in her soothing voice. We shall see, there is still time for those decisions.
The next step was to make stencils, positive and negative and depth. 3 stencils for each book in order to determine how much stone to take away. Since they will be stacked askew the stencils help George keep each book square in relation to the other and control the depth so he doesn’t accidentally gouge the book below. I don’t have any pictures of the stencils, however George is filming a time lapse video that shows it all, which we will of course post upon completion. He just explained this and giggled nervously as he said “gouge the book below”…it goes to state of mind.
When the temperature outside rose above 24 degrees, George spent the day cutting off about 200 lbs. of stone with his masonry cut off saw. Tomorrow he is planning to sandblast the letters on the face of the stone. Then he will begin carving. Ben arrives in a few days to help with the process. I cannot express how I feel except to say I can literally feel my heart swell. I shall keep you posted.