Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let's Paint those Tombstones!

Ok, so I won’t mention the cemetery in which this thought occurred to me, lest people run in there and start painting the tombstones. A few weeks ago I was walking through it and I was drawn to a small swath of blue color on a large, stark white marble headstone. My first though was that someone had splotched it with blue paint! Turned out it was a piece of painter’s tape – you know (or maybe you don’t), the weak masking tape they sell to border moldings when you’re painting the walls in your house. That said, I’m not sure why it was even there, but it got me thinking.

In prior blogs, I wrote about painting cemetery statues with light (How to Paint Tombstones), but then I thought, how about with actual paint?! You know, picture tempera paint, something water-based that will wash off in the rain (think sidewalk chalk drawings a la Mary Poppins). Or maybe something permanent like tinted hydrostatic paint (the kind with which you seal basement walls). How cool would those weather-beaten white marble headstones look if artists were to paint them! You know, highlight the worn detail areas so they could be discerned. (I personally would not do this as I am no artist - my effort would end up looking like the work of a third-grader!)

What might the end result look like? Sort of like what I did with these images in Photoshop. I am picturing colorization of the effect one might achieve with tempera paint, since this is what the piece of masking tape brought to mind – simply painting the raised characters e.g. the names, dates, and epitaph one color, with a contrasting background. The sculpted and engraved symbols can be other colors. Another idea would be to use pastel-like shades so the stones take on the look of those hand-tinted old black and white photographs. Maybe a cemetery can offer a contest, get a bunch of artists together for a day to temporarily paint some headstones (like the sculptors who participate in sand castle-building contests on the beach)!

This is all tongue-in-cheek, of course, I’m not seriously suggesting this at all, but sometimes my brain just puts all these ideas together in well, the way an unsupervised child might make a stew. I mean, what would the families of the dearly departed think? Well, it is another way of memorializing the dead, of keeping them in our memory. Permission would need to be given by the family (descendants), of course. But maybe there are none -  we’re talking about grave markers that are a hundred and more years old. You may not know this unless you hang around in graveyards, but the use of marble for headstones became far less popular toward the end of the 1800s. Taphophiles on the other hand, take this fact for granite (pun intended).

Speaking of granite, paint would adhere to it with greater difficulty than it would to marble, I suppose, since marble is much more porous. After painting, we could apply a preservative chemical over the whole thing like they do with bronze statues to keep them from oxidizing.

Perhaps the stones could be painted with surreal designs or camouflaged as green grass so people would walk into them! Families can commission artists to paint the headstones or other monuments (artists can always use the money: What’s the difference between an artist and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four!). They can even leave the design up to the artist, like the way Philadelphians commission artist Izaiah Zagar to create and install mosaics of broken mirrors and ceramic on their homes and businesses. Maybe the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program could have a branch called the Philadelphia Tombstone Arts Program …

Of course all this could possibly lead to only one thing: someone might eventually get carried away and suggest shrink-wrapping the headstones like they do with advertising vehicle wraps. Hey wait a minute - this would not hurt the stone, it would preserve it, and it could be printed with all the same information and designs as the headstone underneath - why not?