Tag Archives: Folk Art

Robert Long Tombstone, Bethel Cemetery

Who departed this life
August 1st 1832 aged 60
Go home dear friends
And cease from tears.
Here I must lie
Till Christ appears.

W. Savage, Sculptor, Williamsport.

We have seen another pair of tombstones in a similar style in the Bethany Cemetery near Bridgeville: the tombstones of Billingsley Morgan and his (illegible) wife, which were signed by H. Savage. Was H. Savage a brother or other relative of W. Savage? And if “Williamsport” means the only Williamsport Father Pitt knows of in Pennsylvania, then this stone was hauled across the mountains, which must have been quite expensive. Perhaps there was no one in the immediate area who could carve a stone of this quality in 1832—for it certainly is a splendid piece of folk art, well worth the trouble of hauling in from Williamsport.


Master of the Robinson Run Reliefs

This particular craftsman, active in Robinson Run Cemetery in the 1830s, sticks to one particular symbol, which Father Pitt interprets as a stylized thistle—emblematic of sorrow, but also emblematic of Scotland, perhaps the homeland of most of his patrons. Fan ornaments decorate the corners of all his stones.

Alexander and Isabella McClean’s headstones are good and well-preserved examples of his work. He also gave them footstones, which seem to have migrated a little from their original positions, but are still fairly close to the headstones they go with. The carving on the footstones looks a little hastier, although some of that may just be the smaller size.

The same artist made this stone for Elisabeth Moss. “The grave of,” incidentally, is a very unusual way to introduce a tombstone inscription around here, but it was obviously a family preference: Elisabeth Moss is buried in the same plot as the McBurneys, who, though their stones were cut by a different craftsman, both have inscriptions that begin with “The grave of…”

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.