Carved in Stone

Carved in Stone, The Artistry of Early New England Gravestones

Wesleyan University Press - Nov 1, 2012
Photographs by Thomas E. Gilson
Text by William Gilson

Evocative photographs and essay illuminate early American gravestones, 1650 – 1810.   

This elegant collection of fine duotone photographs presents an intimate view of stone carvings from New England graveyards and will be treasured by anyone with an interest in early Americana and fine art photography.  The graceful narrative essay explores a long personal involvement with the stones and their placement in New England landscape, and attempts to trace the curious and imperfectly documented story of carvers.  Brief quotes from early New England writers accompany the images, the captions provide information about each stone. 

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Editorial Reviews

In a culture that shunned image making as idolatry, the emergence of gravestone art in 17th century Puritan communities marked a shift, one in which the spiritual world could be conveyed with dignity and grace as well as represent the deceased's deeply held religious faith.   The Gilson brothers-photographer Thomas and writer William - have captured the essence of these somber, touching memorials.  William writes of his bourgeoning interest in gravestones and the immediacy of his reactions to them as well the historical background of the markers themselves and of the little-known sculptors who carved their images.  Thomas's excellent photographs are interspersed with writings from the period that give voice and personality to the small band of faithful who struggled and sometimes failed to survive.  Cold, hunger, disease, and infant mortality are all recoded in the inscribed memorials under the carvings of angels, winged skulls, fanciful scrolls, and leaf forms carved into the hard stone of the land.  VERDICT An excellent look at a fascinating subject and a fine introduction to the field.  Readers drawn to this topic would do well to consider a much more extensive study, Graven Images, by Allan I. Ludwig.
-Paula Forsch, Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York

Reviews and Awards

2012 Finalist – Book of the Year Awards– ForeWord Reviews (Adult, Nonfiction, Regional)

“A rare and unusual contribution to cemeterist publications...”  “...Thomas Gilson’s duotone photographs are beautiful, well-lit and well-shadowed, so much so that you can see which stones were cut from slate or stone.”
“The most pleasant discovery of Carved in Stone is that Thomas E. Gilson’s photography and William Gilson’s writing each stand well on their own and need no support; however, in combining the two respective talents of both brothers, a great book was created.”

Antoinette LoSchiavo, Quarterly of the Association for Gravestone Studies, Fall 2014, Volume 38, Number 3

“…rich black-and-white full-page photos of details from carved gravestones from the 17th and 18th century.”  “…a great gift for anyone interested in art or poetry, since each gravestone is essentially a brief poem composed of images, dates, and the roughest outline of a story.” Elizabeth Floyd Mair, Times-Union, Albany, NY

"Gravestone carvings are endlessly fascinating, and "Carved in a grand example."....the flat images are full of primitive power, much augmented by relevant quotations and accounts of the period.  This is a large, handsome volume, essential for anyone interested in old graves."  Brenda Clough, ICCFA Magazine.

"Carved in stone is a thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary on New England gravestone art of the pre-industrial era--a welcome addition to the New England gravestone studies literature." Bob Drinkwater, past president of the Association for Gravestone Studies

The Find  - “Photographer Thomas E. Gilson and his brother William, a writer, each independently developed a fascination with old gravestones…their joint project, Carved in Stone…is an eerie book, one that quietly works on you.”    Jan Gardener, Boston Globe

"The artistry of these gravestones is remarkable.." "For all the temptation to use the data from these cemeteries for demography, this remains a study of art..." Christopher Cumo, Connecticut History, Spring 2013.

“…revealing and fascinating essay…magnificent tribute…beautiful book…While Carved in Stone deals with death at its core, it is never morbid.” Kathryn Franklin, Portland Book Review

“Carved in Stone is a beautiful representation of early gravestones…a high quality book. I love the way you weave the past and present….the book is stunning.” Marian Pierre-Louis, Host, Fieldstone Common.   Please click here to hear this entire interview.

The Gilson brothers’ “… collaboration pairs more than 80 spare, striking black-and-white photos with a personal and searching essay on the allure of these idiosyncratic, oddly eloquent carvings.” Nina Shengold, Chronogram

"One of the most interesting books of photography, and history, published in recent years..." Chris Rowley, Shawangunk Journal

" with insights..."  "...oddly to those stubbornly enduring works of hammer and chisel that bear witness to a time when death was an ever present fact of life." Michael C. Bingham, New Haven Magazine.

“…a visual feast...”  Harry Rinker, Whatcha Got Radio?

“These persevering artifacts dot the landscape, reminders of a time and a people long passed. Where else but in New England can you walk up and touch something handcrafted by the first generations of Europeans on this Continent? …If a case may be made for visiting these lonely, eerie, open air exhibits, the Gilson brothers…have made it in their new book…the words and images are compelling…”    David Holahan, The Hartford Courant, The Baltimore Sun, Sun-Sentinel, USA Today

“If you ever liked strolling through a graveyard….this collection of New England’s past will fascinate.”  Tony Laroche, The Providence Sunday Journal

“Not only does Carved in Stone pay tribute to early craftsman who carved these sometimes strange and disturbing images, but if offers a window on the spiritual and mental landscapes of the settlers themselves…Thomas Gilson’s photographs are beautiful, haunting, revelatory at times frightening…”   Alan Bisport, Waterbury Republican American

“…a lovely book…filled with strong, stately images…they almost “pop” off the pages…”    “I …really like these photos…this book is personal.” Minda Powers-Douglas, Epitaphs Magazine

“There’s something bracing about paging through Carved in Stone…Thomas Gilson’s black and white photographs are elegant and find unexpected, humorous details in the carvings…”  “William Gilson’s text is elegiac and thoughtful.” Nicola Smith, Valley News

“This beautiful book explores carvings on early New England Gravestones.  …The 17th and 18th century stones with macabre skeletons, faces with wings, effigies, and other decorative and symbolic elements are fascinating….accompanied by a thoughtful essay…”  Maine Antique Digest

“…this wonderful book…is both informative and entertaining.” Grahame of Harbor Books, The Day.

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