What is the process done on carving the letters and pictures on to a headstone?
If you’ve visited a cemetery recently, you’ve probably seen some intricate and beautiful carving work on headstones and monuments. They even manage to engrave detailed pictures right into the stone. How is this accomplished?
Headstones were once carved out of simple field stone or slate, entirely by hand, sometimes by a family member. For people with a little money, a professional engraver, known as a monument mason, could do the job and make it look lovely. These artists were always looking for new and better ways to make memorial stones as beautiful and lasting as possible.
Marble was a favorite material for both memorial stones and statues, because it is relatively soft and easy to work with. It has a luminous look when finished. However, it’s particularly susceptible to acid rain, which is why marble statues often look blurred or melted and headstone lettering seems to wash away. This also happens with limestone. Granite is preferred today, because its composition is a little more resistant to the chemicals in acid rain, though not immune to them. It is also possible to get stones that are not made of stone at all but composed from recycled or renewable materials.
Some stone carvers still do all their work by hand today. It is an art requiring compassion and sensitivity as well as skill. They take great pride in designing each unique stone personally and carving it with a hammer and chisel. Their work can be amazingly intricate; such work can give those who view the stone a feeling of a true link with the past. Many of today’s hand stone carvers are women.
Other modern engravers use sandblasting, laser technology and drills controlled by a computer. Laser etching is used to create photograph-like pictures by removing the stone’s surface, exposing lighter stone under it. Used with a computer art program, this technique creates the impression of a photograph printed directly onto the stone. This looks especially good on granite, which can require a special sandblasting process due to its hardness. Other durable stones are also used.
Using stencils of picture designs and fonts, today’s memorial artists can quickly and easily create precisely detailed art and lettering. The letters can be cut very deep and colored in with paint, giving an impression of permanence.
Photographs can be printed onto ceramic tile and mounted onto headstones while they are being prepared. In the future, we may see small screens embedded in the stones, with RFID tags containing pictures and audio recordings.