An Artist’s Work



Hungarian-born sculptor George Julian Zolnay (July 4, 1863 – May 1, 1949) created monumental works of arts including the memorial at the edge of Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee, for fallen World War I soldiers. This sculpture shows the full force and emotion of his work. A young soldier, still clutching his rifle lies in the lap of a young woman who cradles him as he dies. Her cape covers them.



Just like other great artists of the time, Zolnay was commissioned to create cemetery memorials. The seated mourning figure was commissioned by David Rowland Francis (October 1, 1850 – January 15, 1927), who served in various political posts such as, Mayor of St. Louis, Governor of Missouri, United States Secretary of the Interior, and Ambassador to Russia. Zolnay’s mourning figure in the Bellefontaine Cemetery, at St. Louis, Missouri, wears a cloak that casts a shadow over her face giving the statue a haunting look.



The sculpture Zolnay created for Confederate President Jefferson Davis (June 3, 1807 – December 6, 1889) in the Hollywood Cemetery, at Richmond, Virginia, shows a proud and unrepentant man. Davis was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point served six years in the United States Army and fought in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). From 1853 to 1857 under President Franklin Pierce, Davis served as Secretary of War. He was also elected as the Democratic U.S. senator from Mississippi. But, Davis, a believer in each states’ right to secede from the Union, was inaugurated as the President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. He became inextricably linked to the Confederacy and a symbol of the lost cause.



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Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The representation of Hope can be easily found in American cemeteries.  Hope is most often portrayed as a woman standing and leaning against an anchor.  In the example above, Virtue is seated and holding a small anchor in her lap.  In the example below, she is standing but again, holding the anchor.

The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol that has been found in early catacomb burials.  The anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  The anchor also served as a symbol of Christ and his anchoring influence in the lives of Christians.  Just as an anchor does not let a moored boat drift, the anchoring influence of Christ does not allow the Christian life to drift.

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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The Sundial

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The sundial has been a way to measure time since the Egyptians developed them over 3,500 years ago. Historians even believe that the obelisks of ancient Egypt were used to measure time even earlier.

Two sundial monuments in the Lakewood Cemetery at Minneapolis, Minnesota, not only measure time, but also mark the graves of two different families. The sundial marks the passage of time and in funerary art symbolizes the passage of time. The white-marble Ludlum Family sundial above punctuates that point with the symbol of the winged hourglass—a symbol that denotes how quickly life passes by, how fleeting time is.


Inscribed on the Ludlum sundial is the message, “LIGHT FOLLOWS DARKNESS”.

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The coral-colored granite Larson Family sundial, flanked by marble carved to emulate rays of sunlight has the following upbeat but accurate inscription (for a sundial cannot count time in darkness), “I COUNT NONE BUT SUNNY HOURS”.


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Slaying the Dragon

Holy Cross Cemetery, San Diego, California

Holy Cross Cemetery, San Diego, California

St. Michael is featured in many cemetery sculptures. Only the Archangel Michael, one of three angels mentioned by name in the Bible, is clothed in armor.  The sword he carries represents a cross but also a weapon in his war against the devil’s warriors.

Archangel Michael is a Christian soldier fighting Satan’s hordes.   Archangel Michael is often represented standing on a worm or a dragon.  In dramatic examples such as this one, St. Michael has plunged his sword into Satan’s mouth as he stands on the vanquished enemy.  Satan is depicted as a dragon.


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The Woman Who Lives on a Ladder


Nellie Verne Walker (December 8, 1874 Red Oak, Iowa – July 10, 1973 Colorado Springs, Colorado) stood a whopping 4 foot 8 inches tall. The diminutive woman was not the image one thinks of when conjuring up a sculptor creating monumental works of art. But she climbed up and down ladders teetering on the steps, leaning in and over her creations to carve sculptures of all sizes earning her the moniker, “the woman who lives on a ladder”.

She first picked up a hammer and chisel in her father’s Moulton, Iowa shop carving gravestones. But by age 17 she carved her first work of art—a limestone bust of President Abraham Lincoln. In a mere 24 days, she had created the bust for the Columbian Exposition being held in Chicago in 1893. Nellie was determined to study art at the Chicago Art Institute and set out on that path in an unlikely place—a secretarial pool as a legal secretary. Within six years she was able to afford tuition where she studied with the famed Lorado Taft with whom she worked until his death in 1936. In fact, when he died, his Herald Square Monument in Chicago which includes statues of George Washington, Robert Morris and Haym Solomon was not completed and Nellie was one of three artist engaged to finish it.

Nellie created famous works, such as, the statue of Senator James Harlan which stands in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol Building; Chief Keokuk in Rand Park in Keokuk, Iowa; and the Polish War Memorial in Chicago. She also returned, in a way, to her earliest work in her father’s workshop—creating cemetery monuments. But this time, she didn’t carve gravestones but instead created sculptures. Below are three examples of her cemetery commissions.

Milton T. Barlow 1844 – 1930 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska



Myron Leslie Learned 1866 – 1928 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha

Mary Poppleton Learned 1873 – 1960 Forest Lawn Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska



Donald Bartley McMullen 1892 – 1966 Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Helen Diggins McMullen 1892 – 1918 Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota


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Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California


1922 – 2008



At a masquerade party hosted by choreographer Lester Horton, a budding actress arrived dressed as a cartoon figure—straight out of the New Yorker. Maila Nurmi shimmied into a tight dress, highlighting not only her hourglass figure, but the black fabric was also in high contrast to her pale, almost alabaster, skin. She struck such a dramatic pose as Morticia Adams that television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr. tracked her down and contracted her to host a Saturday night science fiction series. A campy Vampira was born. She floated onto the set in a haze of fog and a new genre of television personality was created that spawned the likes of Elvira.


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Aquila Non Capit Muscas


A stained glass window in a mausoleum in the Lakewood Cemetery at Minneapolis, Minnesota, displays a yellow dragon with wings spread on a ruby red background, over the motto, AQUILA NON CAPIT MUSCAS.

The translation of the Latin motto to English is “The eagle does not catch flies” or “The eagle does not hunt flies“.  Most likely this is a family crest.  I am not quite sure, however, why an eagle is not depicted in the crest instead of a dragon.  Also, the meaning is open to interpretation.  Could it mean, “Don’t sweat the small stuff“?

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