Tuesday, May 25, 2021

American Calligraphy #22: Carved slate

 ABCs of the USA: The stories behind America’s most distinctive calligraphy styles.

"He spake well who said that 
graves are the footprints of angels." 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It will soon be Memorial Day, when we pay special attention to graveyards. The gravestone shown below is one of America's very earliest, carved for Ann Quinsey, who died at the age of 13 in Boston 1676. What little we know about her is summed up in this article. To preserve the headstone, it was moved from its original location to the portico of the new building that Old South Church built in Back Bay in 1872. 

17th century gravestone, Old South Church, Boston, Massachusetts. (Ann Quinsey appears in some documents as Ann Quincy.) The plaque measures about 15' x 16". 

In the first years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, people had to accomplish a wide range of jobs with only the talents, and tools, that they brought with them. Sadly, the harsh climate and difficult logistics meant that one of their first tasks was to bury and commemorate the dead. These earliest American carvers were amateurs, repurposing stone masons' chisels to carve letters into local slate or sandstone. Probably working from memory or from printed type in books, they made letters that show great creativity and care. The letters here have the elegance of sincerity, with lovingly added serifs and swashes that attest to a sensitive connection with the person who died

I like to stop by now and then to look again at this exquisite memorial. I hope you will give the same kind of attention to gravestones in your neighborhood, which hold treasures and tell stories. American stories

This is the way people
used to abbreviate "the."
In an effort to plan the spacing of their words, 17th-century carvers relied heavily on contractions such as dec(ease)d; they linked letters by sharing strokes as in ANN; and they used the archaic Y-shaped thorn for th→ 

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