Different Tombstone Art

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Though the focus of this site and project is the representation of women in Jewish tombstone art, and particularly the use of candlesticks, it is interesting to see how women (and men) are portrayed artistically in other tombstone carving.

New England — where I currently am, on a fellowship at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA — is famous for its colonial period old cemeteries. In the past, I have visited one or two of them — and when I was in college at Oberlin, I had a friend from Connecticut, Charles Bergengren, who had made rubbings of many New England tombstones (and eventually wrote about folklore in New England gravestone imagery in the journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies).

From gravematter.com, a web site on cemeteries in Massachusetts and Maine, I discovered that there is a historic cemetery in Waltham dating back to the early 18th century — so I will plan to visit it in the next few days. Meanwhile, I’ve looked at the pictures from it posted on line — interesting to see that there is essentially no differentiation (at least in that cemetery) in the decoration or iconography used on the tombstones of men and women. Most seem to feature a winged skull (or occasionally a winged head) above the epitaph, with some decorative carving at the sides.