Tombstones and Gravestones…Take 3…Clay

The last few posts have concentrated on grave markers made of material other than stone.  Often the material is whatever is at hand when marble, granite, or slate, aren’t’ or is too expensive for some of the families burying their dead.  In this case, in the small town of Uhrichsville, Ohio, many grave markers made of sculpted clay dot the city’s Union Cemetery.  These markers are more folk art than grave marker and are artistic creations by artisans living and working with the native clay.

As it turns out, Uhrichsville has had a tile company, the Superior Clay Company, which has produced fine terra cotta and fired clay items for over a century.  For more than four generations the workers at the factory have and still turn out clay chimney pots, firebricks, and other terra cotta decoratives.  As the story goes, a talented and enterprising craftsperson in the tile company began fashioning markers out of the clay, most likely for relatives or friends, at least at first.  These unique fired clay markers were sculpted in the rustic tradition–to look like tree stumps. 

Tree stump gravestones were a part of the rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century which was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country. The rustic movement complemented the rural cemetery movement which began in the United States in 1831 with the opening of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rural cemeteries were often located on the outskirts of town and laid out as a park would be—with broad avenues and winding pathways, featuring picturesque landscaping such as ponds, abundant trees, and shrubs. The tree-stump tombstones were a funerary art contrivance mimicking the natural surroundings of the cemetery. The tree-stump tombstones were most popular for a twenty year-period from about 1885 until about 1905.

In funerary art, tombstones took on the look of tree stumps. The gravestones were purposefully designed to look like trees that had been cut and left in the cemetery to mark a grave. Most of these tree-stump tombstones were carved from limestone, which is easier to carve, though some are made from marble and even a few from granite. But in Uhrichsville they were created from native clay.  The creativity of the craftsmen creating the tree-stump markers exist in many designs, each one separate and distinct.

For the most part, the clay markers are hollow and open often with sprigs of saplings growing from the tops!  Just as in traditional markers, the clay markers were created with diversity of design and tailored to the individual tastes and interests of the deceased as the example below that displays the emblem of the Knights of Pythias. 

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