Clients inquiring about memorials or headstones usually come to us after the immediate grief has passed. They are often unenthusiastic about conventional, sand-blasted stones and find themselves looking for a simple design that combines fine lettering and some decorative carving. Their goal is to create a uniquely meaningful tribute to the memory of a loved one.

The prospect of designing a memorial stone may seem daunting at first, but clients’ ideas and our suggestions often come into focus after a bit of conversation and the exchange of a sketch or two. A visit to our shop in Belfast on the coast of Maine, if possible, is always worthwhile to get a feel for the different stones and to explore the creative possibilities.

Here are some examples of the work we’ve done:

This stone was for an eclectic yet highly accomplished visionary with a host of interests.  His family wanted his stone to suggest the deep research he had done into 17th century headstones in New England as well as to reflect his interest in insects, reptiles, birds, dogs and the natural world at large.
GREEN SLATE, WISCONSIN

This stone was for an eclectic yet highly accomplished visionary with a host of interests.  His family wanted his stone to suggest the deep research he had done into 17th century headstones in New England as well as to reflect his interest in insects, reptiles, birds, dogs and the natural world at large.

This is a black slate marker, which lies flat, with beveled sides mounted on a slightly larger piece of granite to raise it above grade level.  The Irish cross is meaningful to the family.  I like the European way of presenting dates, with the day first, followed by the month.  It isn't the way we display dates in the United States, but it is pleasing to separate the different uses of the numerals.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

This is a black slate marker, which lies flat, with beveled sides mounted on a slightly larger piece of granite to raise it above grade level.  The Irish cross is meaningful to the family.  I like the European way of presenting dates, with the day first, followed by the month.  It isn't the way we display dates in the United States, but it is pleasing to separate the different uses of the numerals.

It is more natural to focus on celebrating a full, long life than that of a young person taken far too soon.  Her flower is a new tulip carved deeply into the stone.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

It is more natural to focus on celebrating a full, long life than that of a young person taken far too soon.  Her flower is a new tulip carved deeply into the stone.

There is a massive, five-trunked oak on this beautiful property, which represents how deeply connected this man was to the land, the place and his family.  
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

There is a massive, five-trunked oak on this beautiful property, which represents how deeply connected this man was to the land, the place and his family.  

This is a small, dark green slate marker for a garden, his garden.  His wife wanted warm, italic lettering throughout that seemed better to express his gentle, open approach to his life.  This seems asymmetrical but well-balanced.
GREEN SLATE, MAINE

This is a small, dark green slate marker for a garden, his garden.  His wife wanted warm, italic lettering throughout that seemed better to express his gentle, open approach to his life.  This seems asymmetrical but well-balanced.

This memorial matches his spouse's in all dimensions and in how the lettering aligns.  Her's has a candle carved into a deep recess, his the heraldry of St. Paul's School in Concord, NH.  Detail:  The crest features a pelican feeding its young, the crossed swords associated with St. Paul and, somewhat paradoxically, a closed book of learning.  Happily, the client is still vital, clear-thinking and wanted this stone to be ready for him.  Sigrid is shown touching up.
BLACK SLATE, NEW HAMPSHIRE

This memorial matches his spouse's in all dimensions and in how the lettering aligns.  Her's has a candle carved into a deep recess, his the heraldry of St. Paul's School in Concord, NH.  Detail:  The crest features a pelican feeding its young, the crossed swords associated with St. Paul and, somewhat paradoxically, a closed book of learning.  Happily, the client is still vital, clear-thinking and wanted this stone to be ready for him.  Sigrid is shown touching up.

PHOTO: IAN HEYSE

These family members wanted to honor their Mother by creating a strong, distinctive memorial that suggests her accomplishments as an artist and as a somewhat unconventional woman.  We started with a large (6' x 3') raw green slate from the quarries in Vermont that featured an interesting natural, riven surface.  I honed a circle in the center and carved her iconic signature with some of the energy bursting out of the circle.  I gilded the signature in silver which will tarnish, as does everything, really.  It won't last forever, but there will be something there even in 100 years.  This is a flat marker.  
GREEN SLATE, CONNECTICUT

These family members wanted to honor their Mother by creating a strong, distinctive memorial that suggests her accomplishments as an artist and as a somewhat unconventional woman.  We started with a large (6' x 3') raw green slate from the quarries in Vermont that featured an interesting natural, riven surface.  I honed a circle in the center and carved her iconic signature with some of the energy bursting out of the circle.  I gilded the signature in silver which will tarnish, as does everything, really.  It won't last forever, but there will be something there even in 100 years.  This is a flat marker.  

This is a small black slate, mounted on a low, granite plinth on a slight rise.  It is just names and dates, except for a small Tibetan prayer carving that speaks to his travels and interests.  I hollowed out the slate and pinned and epoxied the prayer stone.  
BLACK SLATE AND GRANITE, MAINE

This is a small black slate, mounted on a low, granite plinth on a slight rise.  It is just names and dates, except for a small Tibetan prayer carving that speaks to his travels and interests.  I hollowed out the slate and pinned and epoxied the prayer stone.  

This is another small garden stone that hangs on the side of a house.  The advantage of these smaller stones is that when the circumstances of site change, the stone can follow.  14" diameter.  
GREEN SLATE, CHICAGO

This is another small garden stone that hangs on the side of a house.  The advantage of these smaller stones is that when the circumstances of site change, the stone can follow.  14" diameter.  

Even a cat deserves a stone.  I don't normally do pets, but this was for a friend of mine.  Circular stones work very well in nature.  They are never crooked.  All unto themselves, we never feel obliged to line them up with anything.  A sober, all-capitals line of lettering doesn't quite fit such a shape, so I made much of the ascender and fluffed it all up to fill the circle.
GREEN SLATE, MAINE

Even a cat deserves a stone.  I don't normally do pets, but this was for a friend of mine.  Circular stones work very well in nature.  They are never crooked.  All unto themselves, we never feel obliged to line them up with anything.  A sober, all-capitals line of lettering doesn't quite fit such a shape, so I made much of the ascender and fluffed it all up to fill the circle.

I like ampersands.  They are interesting in that they come in a large array of shapes and there are no ampersand police that try to corral their exuberance.  I also think they are an underutilized symbol for what follows us.  This is a small, antique marble base and upright.  
MARBLE,  MASSACHUSETTS

I like ampersands.  They are interesting in that they come in a large array of shapes and there are no ampersand police that try to corral their exuberance.  I also think they are an underutilized symbol for what follows us.  This is a small, antique marble base and upright.  

Sometimes, quite a bit of time goes by before a family finally gets around to some housekeeping business.  In this case, it was important to have a carved representation of a specific landscape.  These aren't easy in that the palette of stone has very little color . . . it's all texture.  I've found, over the years, that it does no good to be small and precious in carving exterior motifs in stone.  To hold its own, bas relief carving needs to have a certain amount of strength.
GREEN SLATE, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Sometimes, quite a bit of time goes by before a family finally gets around to some housekeeping business.  In this case, it was important to have a carved representation of a specific landscape.  These aren't easy in that the palette of stone has very little color . . . it's all texture.  I've found, over the years, that it does no good to be small and precious in carving exterior motifs in stone.  To hold its own, bas relief carving needs to have a certain amount of strength.

Sometimes an image is all we need. This is a pinecone in a recess to collect the rain, trimmed with a band of gold.
GREEN SLATE, MAINE

Sometimes an image is all we need. This is a pinecone in a recess to collect the rain, trimmed with a band of gold.

Simple.  The surface is that slightly bumpy, natural cleave that slate has.  This is usually smooth enough to carve into and confirms the stoniness of slate.
BLACK SLATE, NEW YORK

Simple.  The surface is that slightly bumpy, natural cleave that slate has.  This is usually smooth enough to carve into and confirms the stoniness of slate.

This is a big elm with just a bit of a softening to the top edge. The obverse has the names of two children that each brought to their relationship.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

This is a big elm with just a bit of a softening to the top edge. The obverse has the names of two children that each brought to their relationship.

The husband wanted something to note the Celtic heritage he and his wife shared and to somehow communicate that they were quite separate individuals but were connected, at the same time. The stones are installed about 1/2" apart.
BLACK, MATCHING SLATES, MAINE

The husband wanted something to note the Celtic heritage he and his wife shared and to somehow communicate that they were quite separate individuals but were connected, at the same time. The stones are installed about 1/2" apart.

This granite was “flamed" on its surfaces (made a bit bumpy/rough by fire) to give it a more stone-like feel. I like upper and lower case numerals. The lettering is darkened slightly.
CHANDLERS BAY GRANITE, MAINE

This granite was “flamed" on its surfaces (made a bit bumpy/rough by fire) to give it a more stone-like feel. I like upper and lower case numerals. The lettering is darkened slightly.

I carved a slight, honed dome out of the middle of a piece of riven black slate for the lettering. I mounted the slate on 3" of granite to bring it above the grass and away from lawn mowers.
BLACK SLATE AND GRANITE, MINNESOTA

I carved a slight, honed dome out of the middle of a piece of riven black slate for the lettering. I mounted the slate on 3" of granite to bring it above the grass and away from lawn mowers.

I lost my wife to cancer in 2010. She was loyal to Newfoundland, her home, and she was a peach, too. I shaped the stone slightly wider at the base because it was poised at the crest of a bit of a hill and I wanted to make it stand a little proud and stubbornly. Like Janet.
PURPLE SLATE, MAINE

I lost my wife to cancer in 2010. She was loyal to Newfoundland, her home, and she was a peach, too. I shaped the stone slightly wider at the base because it was poised at the crest of a bit of a hill and I wanted to make it stand a little proud and stubbornly. Like Janet.

Although the other family stones in his plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, have crosses, Mr. Schlesinger’s, suitably, sports his trademark bow tie.
BLACK SLATE, MASSACHUSETTS

Although the other family stones in his plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, have crosses, Mr. Schlesinger’s, suitably, sports his trademark bow tie.

This stone needed to match the family’s bank of existing stones in Concord, Mass. The wreath is raised. The border is somewhat minimal and stiff, but the match was important.
GREEN SLATE, MASSACHUSETTS

This stone needed to match the family’s bank of existing stones in Concord, Mass. The wreath is raised. The border is somewhat minimal and stiff, but the match was important.

There was something wild about the setting of this stone on a rise on an island. I searched the quarry slag piles until I found this beauty… a perfect 2" thick and knowing no tool except a lettering chisel.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

There was something wild about the setting of this stone on a rise on an island. I searched the quarry slag piles until I found this beauty… a perfect 2" thick and knowing no tool except a lettering chisel.

This is tiny but it is set in a very small, private cemetery in Boothbay, Maine. The lily-of-the-valley is very sweet at this size.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

This is tiny but it is set in a very small, private cemetery in Boothbay, Maine. The lily-of-the-valley is very sweet at this size.

This family wanted to use a specific, wild boulder on their property to mark their parents. It is extremely rare to find a wild stone that is smooth enough to take letters, and so they tucked this little medallion on to the end of it to good effect. The round shape was important.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

This family wanted to use a specific, wild boulder on their property to mark their parents. It is extremely rare to find a wild stone that is smooth enough to take letters, and so they tucked this little medallion on to the end of it to good effect. The round shape was important.

The family wanted some kind of border for this simple, flush marker. I suggested just cutting in slightly on the edge and cleaving the border. The room below is for the second name.
GREEN SLATE, MASSACHUSETTS

The family wanted some kind of border for this simple, flush marker. I suggested just cutting in slightly on the edge and cleaving the border. The room below is for the second name.

This flat marker has a granite base to keep it above the grass and to protect that rolled, carved, ogee molding in the slate.
BLACK SLATE AND GRANITE, MAINE

This flat marker has a granite base to keep it above the grass and to protect that rolled, carved, ogee molding in the slate.

Mine is on the right and needed to match the stone on the left. The riven surface is the way slate cleaves…a slight rippling to the surface.
GRAY SLATE, MAINE

Mine is on the right and needed to match the stone on the left. The riven surface is the way slate cleaves…a slight rippling to the surface.

This woman used an old slab of marble from a bureau as a pastry surface and her kids asked if I could make her stone from that. Of course! Letters are slightly darkened for readability.
ANTIQUE BLUE MARBLE, MASSACHUSETTS

This woman used an old slab of marble from a bureau as a pastry surface and her kids asked if I could make her stone from that. Of course! Letters are slightly darkened for readability.

This stone needed to match others in the family plot in size, shape, lettering strengths and border. The deeply recessed center holds pine cones and needles.
BLACK SLATE, MASSACHUSETTS

This stone needed to match others in the family plot in size, shape, lettering strengths and border. The deeply recessed center holds pine cones and needles.

Green cemeteries are emerging as a choice in burials. The policies vary somewhat, but most green cemeteries do not allow embalming, concrete, steel or elaborate memorial stones. The idea is not to impede the body's return to the earth. This Green Cemetery allowed small, shallow, flush stones. This one will gradually sink deeper into the soil.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

Green cemeteries are emerging as a choice in burials. The policies vary somewhat, but most green cemeteries do not allow embalming, concrete, steel or elaborate memorial stones. The idea is not to impede the body's return to the earth. This Green Cemetery allowed small, shallow, flush stones. This one will gradually sink deeper into the soil.

The original memorial stones for E.B. White and his wife were carved in an inferior grade of grey slate and both had split prematurely. The family asked me to duplicate the original stones in the deep black, more durable slate of Monson, Maine.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

The original memorial stones for E.B. White and his wife were carved in an inferior grade of grey slate and both had split prematurely. The family asked me to duplicate the original stones in the deep black, more durable slate of Monson, Maine.

The client wanted holding hands. Usually hands come together palm against palm. I suggested these spooning, nesting hands which seemed more loving, more gentle and tender. There is something about the back of a hand that pushes us away. It is the palm that expresses and holds us. As personal as a memorial stone in a cemetery is, it is also a bit of a statement of belonging to a shared world and perhaps these hands are meant to include all of us, too.
WHITE MARBLE HIGHLIGHTED LETTERING

The client wanted holding hands. Usually hands come together palm against palm. I suggested these spooning, nesting hands which seemed more loving, more gentle and tender. There is something about the back of a hand that pushes us away. It is the palm that expresses and holds us. As personal as a memorial stone in a cemetery is, it is also a bit of a statement of belonging to a shared world and perhaps these hands are meant to include all of us, too.

This couple was a real team. It was important to express this parity by the number of lines, words and the weight in each half of this double stone. His birth state was Connecticut, whose state tree is the oak. Hers is Maine, indicated by the white pine.
BLACK SLATE, CONNECTICUT

This couple was a real team. It was important to express this parity by the number of lines, words and the weight in each half of this double stone. His birth state was Connecticut, whose state tree is the oak. Hers is Maine, indicated by the white pine.

This stone wanted the feel of an older stone. There were a lot of elements at work here and the trick was to make them all pull together. I dug deeply into the edges, raked the back bevel and textured the back in exactly the same way they would have dressed a stone four hundred years ago.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

This stone wanted the feel of an older stone. There were a lot of elements at work here and the trick was to make them all pull together. I dug deeply into the edges, raked the back bevel and textured the back in exactly the same way they would have dressed a stone four hundred years ago.

Variegated purple slate has all kinds of interesting movement in it, particularly when the surface is carved in its natural, "riven" state. The carved perimeter molding nicely holds back the colors and natural cleft surface.
VARIEGATED PURPLE SLATE, MAINE

Variegated purple slate has all kinds of interesting movement in it, particularly when the surface is carved in its natural, "riven" state. The carved perimeter molding nicely holds back the colors and natural cleft surface.

The book, open and deeply recessed, represents the importance of literature. Initially the smooth pages looked disappointingly blank. I used a toothed chisel to randomly texture the surface of the pages, making the book more vital and alive.
BLACK SLATE, MASSACHUSETTS

The book, open and deeply recessed, represents the importance of literature. Initially the smooth pages looked disappointingly blank. I used a toothed chisel to randomly texture the surface of the pages, making the book more vital and alive.

The client liked this somewhat old-fashioned shape. She also wanted to emphasize the importance of her mother's Catholicism so I suggested cutting the cross right through the stone. I was concerned that the cross might feel stingy, like a keyhole, going through all that thickness, so I recessed a panel in front and in back. Once the depth was girdled, I carved the cross through the full 1 1/2" and then split away the slate, leaving the pleasing, naturally-riven surface within both circular panels.
MOTTLED PURPLE SLATE, MAINE

The client liked this somewhat old-fashioned shape. She also wanted to emphasize the importance of her mother's Catholicism so I suggested cutting the cross right through the stone. I was concerned that the cross might feel stingy, like a keyhole, going through all that thickness, so I recessed a panel in front and in back. Once the depth was girdled, I carved the cross through the full 1 1/2" and then split away the slate, leaving the pleasing, naturally-riven surface within both circular panels.

The wife of this young craftsman had clear ideas about her husband's stone. She wanted it tall and thin with personal symbols and lettering that harked back to more untutored days when various styles of lettering were more exuberantly integrated. The back of the stone is the natural riven surface with a strong bevel to the edges, accentuating the thinness.
VARIEGATED PURPLE/GREEN SLATE, PENNSYLVANIA

The wife of this young craftsman had clear ideas about her husband's stone. She wanted it tall and thin with personal symbols and lettering that harked back to more untutored days when various styles of lettering were more exuberantly integrated. The back of the stone is the natural riven surface with a strong bevel to the edges, accentuating the thinness.

This 33" diameter, perfect bowl is carved out of a very large, rough chunk of black slate. It is a horizontal memorial honoring residents of a safe home for single, pregnant women a century ago. The spiraling inscription reads: "Between 1902 and 1954 the Good Samaritan Agency of Bangor helped nine hundred and ninety-five young single women to give birth and care for their children in safety. One woman and eighty-five children remain here." The womb-like bowl fills with the water of life that protects the inscription and the stories of those buried here.

This 33" diameter, perfect bowl is carved out of a very large, rough chunk of black slate. It is a horizontal memorial honoring residents of a safe home for single, pregnant women a century ago. The spiraling inscription reads: "Between 1902 and 1954 the Good Samaritan Agency of Bangor helped nine hundred and ninety-five young single women to give birth and care for their children in safety. One woman and eighty-five children remain here." The womb-like bowl fills with the water of life that protects the inscription and the stories of those buried here.

My client was not at all dissuaded when I explained that I could not "fake" the folkloric sincerity and spontaneity of a true seventeenth century deathhead. She wanted one, even if it was contemporary.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

My client was not at all dissuaded when I explained that I could not "fake" the folkloric sincerity and spontaneity of a true seventeenth century deathhead. She wanted one, even if it was contemporary.

This couple is far from needing this stone, but wanted to take care of details while both were healthy and vibrant. The stone reflects the up-beatness of the commission in that the lilies-of-the-valley are vigorous, the name arches upward toward the crown, and the side "sprigs" are an added symbol of life.
GREEN SLATE, MAINE

This couple is far from needing this stone, but wanted to take care of details while both were healthy and vibrant. The stone reflects the up-beatness of the commission in that the lilies-of-the-valley are vigorous, the name arches upward toward the crown, and the side "sprigs" are an added symbol of life.

I carved a surround ogee molding to further refine this elegantly simple stone. It is a set of four matching slates mounted on low, pitched granite bases, all in a line.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

I carved a surround ogee molding to further refine this elegantly simple stone. It is a set of four matching slates mounted on low, pitched granite bases, all in a line.

This is a small, but fine upright stone mounted to a green slate plate. The cross is 23 K gold (some cemeteries won't allow it) and will last, not forever, but for a long time.
DARK GREEN SLATE, NEWFOUNDLAND

This is a small, but fine upright stone mounted to a green slate plate. The cross is 23 K gold (some cemeteries won't allow it) and will last, not forever, but for a long time.

I was very close to my grandmother. A fancy, Victorian shape suited her faded aristocracy. I designed this small stone to be installed several inches above grade and at a modest slant. It was easy to carve Family • Church • Community, but how could I express her wonderful sense of humor, delightful wit and her passion for all dogs? A small set of prints running right across the surface seemed appropriate.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

I was very close to my grandmother. A fancy, Victorian shape suited her faded aristocracy. I designed this small stone to be installed several inches above grade and at a modest slant. It was easy to carve Family • Church • Community, but how could I express her wonderful sense of humor, delightful wit and her passion for all dogs? A small set of prints running right across the surface seemed appropriate.

The client wanted to recognize her husband's long involvement with wood products so I carved a somewhat formal crown of leaves on the front, ran them around the edges and turned them into a fall of leaves on the back.
BLACK SLATE, MAINE

The client wanted to recognize her husband's long involvement with wood products so I carved a somewhat formal crown of leaves on the front, ran them around the edges and turned them into a fall of leaves on the back.

The two images, a lobster and seagull, were important to my client. My job was to make them work. I made the seagull as airborne as possible by placing it high and splitting away the slate between the wings, taking whatever shearing the stone offered. The lobster was carved deeply into the stone…as if it were hiding at the bottom of the ocean.
BLACK SLATE, MASSACHUSETTS

The two images, a lobster and seagull, were important to my client. My job was to make them work. I made the seagull as airborne as possible by placing it high and splitting away the slate between the wings, taking whatever shearing the stone offered. The lobster was carved deeply into the stone…as if it were hiding at the bottom of the ocean.

Setting a Stone
Most cemeteries have guidelines to help them ensure the responsible setting of the stones in their care. A few have very strict policies to follow. Our method of installation is generally well-respected and accepted by cemeteries. We pour two reinforced concrete "shoes" that are pinned to the upright stone, spreading the weight and enabling it to rise and fall with the deep frosts of New England. It is a simple, non-interventive way of stabilizing an upright memorial and, for our purposes, lets us easily pull the stone later and carve an additional name and date with relative ease.

Setting a Stone
Most cemeteries have guidelines to help them ensure the responsible setting of the stones in their care. A few have very strict policies to follow. Our method of installation is generally well-respected and accepted by cemeteries. We pour two reinforced concrete "shoes" that are pinned to the upright stone, spreading the weight and enabling it to rise and fall with the deep frosts of New England. It is a simple, non-interventive way of stabilizing an upright memorial and, for our purposes, lets us easily pull the stone later and carve an additional name and date with relative ease.

Here, Sigrid finishes placing her flat work on a deep bed of gravel.  She has removed the blanket covers and is down to the thin plastic.  We never install a stone without adequate protection to the work.
PHOTO: IAN HEYSE

Here, Sigrid finishes placing her flat work on a deep bed of gravel. She has removed the blanket covers and is down to the thin plastic. We never install a stone without adequate protection to the work.