Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stone Monuments in Bronze

The late-19th century is wonderful in two tendencies that seem contradictory from our modernist perspective. With the advent of the industrial revolution, new materials emerged in every aspect of life. Molding bronze into traditional stone forms was one such innovation applied in sculpture and sculptural relief. Dyeing the bronze gray completed the illusion. The advantage of new technologies was their ability to out-due traditional materials in decorative detail. If new technologies allowed you to fill even more surfaces with decoration, so much the better for industrialization. The Victorian sensibility also had no scruples in shifting across material without any concern for honesty. Whereas each piece of stone had to be uniquely carved, the molded pseudo-stone could be mass produced.

During a morning walk through Farm Hill Cemetery in Middletown, I discovered something I had never noticed before. What I always thought was a particularly hard form of granite turns out to be cast bronze. Consider the Crook/Grosley family monument (above) , erected in 1884. It looks like a spectacular stone monument. Looking more carefully at its rusticated base, we read the maker's mark MONUMENTAL BRONZE CO. BRIDGEPORT, CT.
Bronze funerary monuments present an interesting problem. Family tombs served for multiple burials. Space was provisioned on the stone surfaces and the carver inscribed the names and circumstances of each new burial sequentially. But this is not possible when your monument is made by an industrial mold. These bronze monuments came up with a good solution. The inscribed panels within the ornate architectural frame are actually bolted onto the monument with screws. If you look closely at the panel of Oscar Crook, Ellen Crook and infant (below), you'll see three bolts disguised in floral design.
The Crook/Grosley monument has two sides naming deceased family members, but the remaining two panels contain visual images, a cross draped with garlands (visible in the first image above) and a classicizing maiden holding an anchor (below).
Although beautifully designed and contributing to the overall narrative of the monument, the visual panels must have also served as place holders. In a wonderful way, they are simply waiting to be replaced by a future family member. The visual message awaits for the text.

Location: 41°32'08.1" N, 72°38'26.1" W
New Farm Hill Cemetery, Middletown, CT 06457

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I happened across this looking into Russell Library's history - thought you'd want to know that the cemetery monuments with a white-gray cast to them are actually made of cast zinc. This was a very popular and cost effective way in the Victorian era to produce a large ornate monument that most families would otherwise not be able to afford in stone or in bronze. The white-gray is not "dyed" (there is no dyeing of metals like bronze, they are patinated with a chemical finishing process) but is actually a natural-forming corrosion layer which occurs from weathering. While you get red rust on steel, zinc 'rust' is white and not flaky and actually forms a stable, somewhat protective layer over the metal.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States