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Knowing your subject

When I first started walking through cemeteries and graveyards as a young girl I was was fascinated by the different images carved into the gravestones or tombstones. In my area of the Upland South they were called "rocks." As I child I searched out the lamb and doves. This usually related to a child's grave. I always wondered why such images were chosen. As I opened my eyes, I found images or hands shaking or a hand with a finger pointing skyward. The tree monuments always intrigued me. Ones with ivy and cut off branches. Of course I loved the angels. Angels in all forms, weeping, embracing something, or bringing a sense of peace.

When you start working with iconography it is imperative that you understand what it means. What it meant to the people who chose it, why they chose it, and a host of other questions that relate to the society and culture of the time it was created. Above is one of the sources I use now. It was written in 2004. I've provided a link below. There has been information on iconography for decades, but it gets refined as we understand previous cultures and eras. This is especially important since our country is made up different regions that have their own language and symbolism. The graves on the Plains or along the Oregon Trail are quite a bit different than those you see in the South.

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Written and photographed by Douglas Keister. (Amazon link)

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