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Professor resurrects forgotten art

Annette Stott, director of the School of Art and Art History, has spent years researching the cemeteries of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Montana to highlight the work of sculptors in Pioneer Cemeteries: Sculpture Gardens of the Old West (University of Nebraska Press, 2008).

“I’m most interested in what everyday people chose as markers for those they loved — and why,” Stott says.

It took months of digging through state archives, probate records, insurance documents and Census reports to find the manufacturer and the family connected to a certain monument. Stott often wrote to everyone in a town with a particular last name to find descendants whose family lore might provide clues that would reveal the mystery behind a memorial.

Although modern American society eschews cemeteries as morbid, in the late 1800s cemeteries functioned as public parks. Families gathered to picnic and visit the graves of their loved ones, providing the impetus for even middle class families to beautifully memorialize those who had passed on.

Realizing that monument makers’ bodies of work remain largely intact in their original settings, in the late 1980s Stott took her Winthrop University art students to examine monuments in a nearby cemetery in Rock Hill, S.C. Today, Stott’s DU students avail themselves of works in Denver’s Fairmount, Mt. Olivet and Riverside cemeteries.

“Students can study the sculptures’ forms and techniques while debating their roles in popular culture and art,” Stott says.

Although cemetery monuments are highly personal choices, they are cultural ones as well, reflecting attitudes about death and the afterlife. In the 19th century, Stott says, death was ever-present. Mortality rates were high, and children were particularly vulnerable. Commonly used images—souls traveling to heaven, Biblical scriptures and angelic beings—revealed deep-rooted religious beliefs, Stott explains.
Her book points out stylistic variations have happened over time, differences women have made, the influence of imported monuments and styles and the customs of burying, grave decorating and visiting cemeteries.

This book is available at the DU Bookstore and

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