Stone-carver picture: a master at work

Tombstone carver at work, 1916 (image from Bildarchiv, National Library, Vienna)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I’m posting this wonderful picture that Sergey Kravstov sent me of a tombstone carver in his shop in the town of Volodymyr-Volyn’skyi, Ukraine (known in Yiddish as Ludmir), in the Autumn of 1916 (the date is known from the date on the tombstone in the picture, which is assumed to have been carved — and painted — within the month after the funeral). The photo is from a glass negative held in the Bildarchiv (picture archive) of the National Library in Vienna.

The town is just inside today’s Ukraine near the Polish border, between Zamosc in Poland and Lutsk, Ukraine. At the time the picture was taken, about 6,000 Jews lived in the town.

If the finished stone show in any indication, this carver’s work was very simple — uh, minimalist? — and in no way approached the splendid sculptural style of past centuries. But — the picture clearly shows how the tombstone was painted. As seen below, this practice is still alive in Ukraine — in this picture, in the village of Sharhorod. (See comments to this post for a discussion of the methodology of painting and tombstones.)


Sharhorod, Ukraine -- sketched candlesticks and painted color.

3 thoughts on “Stone-carver picture: a master at work

  1. The tombstones were painted, and then carved. This is evident from the slabs standing on the left: they are painted above the planned ground level. Probably, cutting the painted stone was more convenient, since the contrast between the cut and untouched stone was very high, to say nothing about the aesthetic considerations.

    • Sergey — you are the expert, and this makes sense, and I see the painted portion of the stones on the left. But I enlarged the photo and it still looks to me as if the painted stone at the right, which looks completed, is painted on top of carving — it also appears that more than one color has been used (the second line [the name Yehuda?] seems to be in a different color.) Does this mean that all the stones in cemeteries that old pictures show were painted — were they painted first, then carved, and then the painted surface left with the color on it?

  2. Ruth, I believe you are right, and they added some paint to the carved tombstone, like in the name of the deceased Yehuda. In other words, they made difference between the technical means of even foreground color, and the proper decoration. I am sure they painted first, then carved, then made additional painting while preserving the initial ine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s