THE ASSOCIATION FOR GRAVESTONE STUDIES
GRAVESTONE RUBBING FOR BEGINNERS
by Jessie Lie Farber
Rubbing is what you did as a child when you placed
a scrap of paper over a coin and brought up the coin's design by
covering the paper with pencil strokes. Using different materials,
this technique can be used to reproduce the relief design of any
surface. It is an ancient technique which originated in the Orient
and which, like etching and other printing techniques, is employed
by artists today to made original prints. Using this technique to
make a print of the carving on a gravestone is
GRAVESTONE RUBBING. WHY MAKE A RUBBING?
A gravestone rubbing is an excellent document, accurately
reproducing, life-size, the design and surface condition of the
stone. Rubbings are, therefore, useful as records. Some rubbings
are works of art in their own right and are in the collections of
galleries and museums. Unfortunately, most rubbings are ephemeral
novelties, souvenirs, which find their way to dorm and den walls
on their way to the waste basket--hardly a justification for incouraging
the novice rubber, armed with coloring materials, to try his hand
on handsome and vulnerable old gravestones. The Association for
Gravestone Studies offers this introduction to gravestone rubbing
because the increasing popularity of the activity without guidance
is a threat to the stones. In addition, it is our hope that getting
to know the stones through rubbing will encourage respectful interest
in them and result in strong community support for their care.
Kits containing rubbing supplies are sold at stationery
and art shops in areas where stone rubbing is popular. However,
all you really need for a good start is:
- Masking tape. Scissors for cutting your paper.
- A bottle of water and soft brush for gently cleaning dust and
bird droppings from the stone.
For the beginner an average weight wrapping paper
works well and is cheap. Later you may want to try a rice paper,
vellum tissue or even a thin pellon (interfacing material). Rubbing
wax or lumberman's chalk. Rubbing wax is available in many art supply
stores. I prefer the inexpensive lumberman's chalk found in most
hardware stores. If you use chalk you may want to spray your finished
rubbing to prevent smearing. Art stores carry fixing spray.
CHOOSING A STONE
Beginners often choose stones from which a good rubbing
cannot be made. If you choose a "good" stone. you have
an excellent chance of producing a satisfying and encouraging print
on your first try. Avoid rough stones, stones which are eroded or
otherwise damaged, stones on which there is lichen. To get a good,
clean-line print, the stone carving must be sharply but not deeply
cut. Rounded, high relief carving will cause you to tear the paper
as you rub, and you will risk defacing the stone with color. Note
any hollowness or separation or flaking on the face of the stone.
Any pressure or friction on the face of an unsound stone can seriously
Cut a piece of paper considerably larger than the
stone or the part of the stone you plan to rub. Be generous with
the paper; it protects the stone from your chalk or wax. Tape the
paper tightly and securely to the clean stone. It is best to fold
the paper over the sides and top of the stone and tape its edges
to the back of the stone. Using the broad, flat area of your chalk
or wax, lightly stroke the paper and watch the design appear. When
you can see the design rather well, use the end of your chalk stick
or wax bar to fill in and darken your print. You will decide when
your rubbing satisfies you and is finished. Remove your print and
put it where it will be protected from sudden showers or gusts of
wind while you are in the graveyard. You will want to record the
name of the deceased, death date, location of the graveyard and
the date the rubbing was taken. If you rub only the ornamental carving
rather than the whole stone, you may want to copy the stone's full
inscription for your record.
CAUTION AND RESPONSIBILITY
As you practice and improve your skill, you will probably
try other techniques and materials, eventually choosing for yourself
those which best suit your rubbing style and your taste. A first
and vital consideration as you experiment with materials and techniques
is the protection of the stones. Some papers and coloring materials
allow color to penetrate onto the stone. Experiment elsewhere. Do
not use questionable methods on the gravestones. Because old gravestones
are an important part of our national heritage, you should be as
careful with them as you are when handling other ancient folk art
treasures. Many rubbers are not careful, For this reason, some cemetery
associations do not allow stone rubbing. Some require the rubber
to register. You will want to respect the graveyard's requirements
and leave the stones and the area as you found them. Following is
an annotated list of books and articles about rubbing. Many of the
publications are out of print, but they do occasionally appear on
remainder lists, and some are available in libraries.
Andrew, Laye, Creative Rubbings. Watson-Guptill Publications,
165 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036, 1972. Introduces rubbing
as a fascinating craft with "an immediate appeal to children
and adults whether or not they consider themselves artistically
gifted." Easily-followed steps for creating both the rubbing
and the subject to be rubbed. No mention of gravestones, yet of
interest to any rubbing enthusiast. An attractive book, half illustrations,
half text. 96 pages.
Bodor, John J., Rubbings and Textures: A Graphic Technique.
Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 450 West 33rd Street, New York, NY
10001, 1968. An excellent and thorough description of five techniques
for rubbing a wide variety of subjects from all over the world.
A separate chapter on New England gravestones as rubbing subjects,
and a chapter each on the historical background of rubbing, suggestions
for teachers, and suggestions for cataloging, storing, displaying
and photographing rubbings. Highly recommended.
Jacobs, G. Walker, Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye:
A Guide to Gravestones and Gravestone Rubbing. The Stephen Greene
Press, Brattleboro, VT 05301, 1973. Contains a section on the history
of grave symbols and stonecutters, followed by a section on five
rubbing techniques. Good step-by-step descriptions. Well illustrated.
Neal, Avon and Ann Parker. Early American Stone Sculpture
Found in the Burying Grounds of new England. Sweetwater Editions,
New York, NY, 1981. Available from AGS. This is not a book about
rubbing. We mention it here because of the quality of the full-page
rubbings in the book. Neal and Parker have introduced 42 of New
England's most interesting gravestones, each in a double-page spread:
on one page a rubbing of a detail, on the other, the inscription,
information about the stone, and a photograph of the whole stone
. This handsome book sold for $395, which includes an original rubbing
by the artist/authors. According to the New York Times review of
the book--and we agree--it is well worth that price.
A gift from the publishers makes it possible for AGS
to offer a limited number for contributions to AGS of $150. First
come, first served. Address AGS, 46 Plymouth Road, Needham. MA 02192.
115 oversized (11" x 16") pages. Tashjian, Dickran
and Ann, Memorials to Children of Change. Wesleyan University Press,
Middletown, CT, 1974. Like the Neal/Parker book, this is
not a book about rubbing, but it is listed here because Ann Tashjian's
rubbings will inspire anyone who has ever made a rubbing. The text
compares the carvings on early American gravestones with other examples
of art. 309 pages.
SOFT-COVER Diandrea, Phyllis M., Rubbing Off History:
A Guide to New England Gravestones and Rubbing and Casting Technique.
Published by the author, 142 Palfrey street, Watertown, MA 02171,
1975. Offers glimpses a bit broader than those found in most slim,
pamphlet-type publications for beginners. Brief sections on history
(stonecarvers, symbols, epitaphs) and on technique (wax and foil).
Illustrations poor and poorly reproduced. 29 pages.
English Brass Rubbing Centre, Brass Rubbings. 803
South Inglewood Avenue, Inglewood, CA 90301, no date. A catalog
of rubbings, lectures, and activities offered by a California rubbing
center. good illustrations of rubbings made from replicas of England
monumental brasses. Also prices for making your own rubbings and
for ordering custom-made rubbings; also for ordering rubbings made
in England from the original brasses. 27 pages.
Firestein, Cecily Barth, Rubbing Craft: How to rub
doors, letterboxes, gravestones, manhole covers, and how to use
these designs to make jewelry, T-shirts, needlepoint and more.
Quick Fox, A Division of Music Sales Corporation,
33 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023, 1977. A wide-ranging
treatment of rubbing and of ways to use rubbing designs in other
crafts. Of interest to the rubbing enthusiast who wants to go beyond
making the rubbing. Half illustration, half text. The author teaches
rubbing at the New School in New York City. 95 pages.
Frisvell, Richard, Faces in Stone: The Early American
Gravestone as Primitive Art. Published by the author, 88 Beach Street,
Belmont, MA 02178, 1971. The first edition of this small
pamphlet was probably the first of the spate of publications introducing
gravestone rubbing that appeared in the years preceding and following
the 1976 bicentennial celebration. It has been severely criticized,
and rightly so, for recommending the use of a wire brush for cleaning
stones, for recommending an ink technique to beginners, and for
other errors and inaccuracies (e.g., recommending a late afternoon
sun to achieve a raking light for photographing stones). Its pen
and ink drawings are inadequate as illustrations. Nevertheless,
Friswell, a psychologist, wrote an insightful introduction to the
stones as they fit into early American life and introduced many
people to stone rubbing. The book has had an impact, and collectors
of books on the subject will want to find and own a copy. 19 pages.
By 1973, Faces in Stone, with text revisions and better illustrations,
had gone into its fifth printing. A useful introduction. 19 pages.
Gillon, Edmund Vincent, Jr., Early new England Gravestone
Rubbings. Dover Publications, Inc., 190 Varick Street, New York,
NY 10014, 1966. A three-page introduction that outlines the
rubbing technique used by the author is followed by a large and
varied collection of rubbings and photographs. No text. 'Notes on
the Plates' are brief and are often inadequate and inaccurate. The
illustrations may be copied without permission. About 200 unnumbered
Kelly, Susan H. and Anne C. Williams, A Grave Business:
New England Gravestone Rubbings, a Selection. Art Resources of Connecticut,
1979. This excellent publication was published in conjunction
with a traveling exhibition of Kelly/Williams rubbings sponsored
by the Art Resources of Connecticut. In addition to a catalog of
the rubbings in the exhibition, with notations about the work exhibited
and the stonecarver, the publication includes a sound and succinct
introduction to early gravestone art. A valuable addition to the
library of anyone interested in gravestone art. 42 pages
Kull, Andrew, New England Cemeteries: A Collector's
Guide. The Stephen Greene Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, 1975
Good directions for finding 262 interesting New England cemeteries.
Symbols are used to indicate whether the cemetery is "unusually
picturesque," has "interesting carving," "Famous
people," and/or "a grand style." Not focused primarily
on subjects for rubbing or on early carvings; and by no means a
complete list of yards containing fine rubbing subjects. A big help
to the serious collector of rubbings, nevertheless. 253 pages.
McGeer, William J.A., Reproducing Relief Surfaces:
A Complete Handbook of Rubbing, Dabbing, Casting, and Daubing. Published
by the author, 102 Brimfield Road, Holland, MA 1972. This
small jewel of a book gives the reader professional directions for
rubbing and other techniques for reproducing relief surfaces, with
special emphasis on gravestones and monumental brasses. The author
is an artist and a professional cast maker who has developed his
own methods for making molds and casts. He can cast a full size
replica (or a miniature one) of a stone, and has done so for the
Boston Museum of Fine Arts and other institutions. Beautifully illustrated.
A list of sources for materials is included. 40 pages.
Marks, Glen K., Oldstone's guide to Creative Rubbing.
Oldstone Enterprises, Inc., 186 Lincoln Street, Boston, MA 02111,
1973. Introduces gravestones, monumental brasses, historical
markers and collages as subjects for wax rubbings. Oldstone Enterprises
is the foremost supplier of rubbing materials. Illustrated. 21 pages.
Smith, Elmer L., Early American Grave Stone Designs.
Applied Arts, Witmer, PA, 1968. "A pictorial presentation
of the often forgotten folk art in the early graveyards of New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Maryland and in Virginia." Comprised of drawings
made from rubbings; also some photographs. No text. Of interest
in that it introduces a number of little known stones. However,
the "Design Notes and References" are often inadequate
and inaccurate so that finding the stone is not made easy. 42 pages.
Wakin, B. Bertha, To Rub or Not to Rub: Being a Book
on the Art and History of Tombstones. Lith-Art Press, Woodstock,
NY, 1976. Touches briefly on symbolism, rubbing, documenting,
and using gravestones and rubbing to teach history and art. Illustrated
with poor rubbings. Not for the initiated. 72 pages.
Wasserman, Emily, Gravestone Designs: Rubbings &
Photographs from Early New York & New Jersey. Dover Publications,
Inc., 180 Varick street, New York, NY 10014. An interesting,
informative 31-page introduction to the designs and the stonecutters
is followed by a collection of 220 rubbings and photographs of New
York and New Jersey gravestones. Notes on the plates give information
about the designs illustrated, some of which is not accurate according
to current scholarship. A useful introduction to some of the carving
styles seen in these states. The illustrations may be copied without
permission. About 190 unnumbered pages.
Williams, Melvin G., The Last Word: The Lure and Lore
of Early New England Graveyards. Published by the author, Ludlow,
MA, 1973. A charming and useful introduction to gravestone
studies and gravestone rubbing, available from Oldstone Enterprises,
Inc., suppliers of rubbing materials (186 Lincoln Street, Boston,
MA 02111). Six pages are devoted to rubbing instruction for the
beginner. Includes a fold-out map (credited to Ludwig's Graven Images)
showing good yards. Illustrated by the author, a professor of English
and a popular lecturer on gravestone art, and Ray Bentley, owner
of Oldstone Enterprises. 319 pages.
ARTICLES AND UNPUBLISHED PAPERS Halporn, Roberta,
"New York is a Rubber's Paradise." Center for Thanatology
Research, 391 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217. 1990.
Gives directions to and descriptions of several New York City cemeteries
that offer good rubbing and can be reached by subway. Also mentions
the London Brass Rubbing Center where replicas of English Brasses
can be rubbed (phone 212/879-4320). The author is a publisher of
books on thanatology and knowledgeable in the field of gravestone
studies. 11 pages. Smaridge, Nora, "Tombstones, Manhole
Covers and the Ancient Art of Rubbing." The New York Times.
Arts and Leisure Section. Sunday, July 27, 1978. A spin-off
from the author's book on retirement hobbies. An interesting overview
of rubbing as a hobby, which probably lured many readers into the
graveyards with paper and wax. One wishes the author had said more
about good care of the stones.
AGS PUBLICATIONS Farber, Jessie Lie, "Gravestone
Rubbing for Beginners." Published by AGS, 30 Elm Street, Worcester,
MA 01609. Instruction for getting started right, written
with special concern for the gravestones being rubbed. Recommended
for anyone unfamiliar with rubbing using rubbing wax or lumberman's
chalk or crayon, especially teachers or group leaders planning to
introduce gravestone rubbing to others. 6 pages. $1.50; members
Farber, Jessie Lie, "A Technique for the Experienced
Rubber." Published by AGS. 30 Elm Street, Worcester, MA 01609.
Instruction in using oil paint to make rubbings on tough,
thin paper such as acid free tissue paper used by art museums for
packing art objects. 3 pages, $1.50; members $1.00.
Duval, Francis, ed. The AGS Series of Regional Guides
to 17th and 18th Century Graveyards. Published by AGS, 30 Elm Street,
Worcester, MA 01609. This series is in preparation, with
two guides now available: Guide 1, to the graveyards of the
Narrangansett Bay area (eastern Rhode Island and parts of southern
Massachusetts), by Vincent Luti. 17 pages. $4.50; members $3.50.
Guide 2, to the graveyards of Long Island, New York, by Richard
Welch. 16 pages. $5.50; members $4.75. Each guide gives directions
and information about the stones to be found in choice yards in
the area. Excellent illustrations.
THE ASSOCIATION FOR GRAVESTONE STUDIES A TECHNIQUE
FOR THE EXPERIENCED RUBBER by Jessie Lie Farber
NOTE: Whether you are an experienced rubber or a beginner, this
information sheet should be read after reading the information sheet,
"Gravestone Rubbing for Beginners," available from the
Association for Gravestone Studies, 30 Elm Street, Worcester, MA
01609. An increasing number of early graveyards restrict
stone-rubbing, and for good reason: an inexperienced rubber or a
careless one can do permanent damage to historically and artistically
precious old gravestone carvings. The technique described here is
one that poses the particular threat of getting paint on the stone,
a defacement difficult if not impossible to correct. For this reason,
the technique is not recommended for use by anyone without considerable
experience in the art of gravestone rubbing.
MATERIALS NEEDED Use a tough, thin paper considerably
larger in size than the area to be rubbed. An art supply store will
have a number of papers to choose from. To find the paper you prefer
to work with will require experimenting with an assortment of papers.
Among those I can recommend are "cigarette paper," model
airplane paper, and the acid-free tissue used by art museums for
packing art objects. Masking tape, for fixing the paper to
the stone. A pad of writing paper and a pencil, for noting
data about the stone. (Optional) A few paper clips for attaching
these notes to your rubbings. Tube(s) of oil paint.
A roll of paper towels. An applicator. I use a 3" or
4" section of discarded nylon stockings or pantyhose. A piece
of felt can also serve as an applicator. Scissors, for cutting
the nylon or the paper. A palette. A small (about 5"
x 7") piece of masonite will serve satisfactorily. A
soft brush, for cleaning dust off the stone. A spray bottle
of water, for washing bird dung or other foreign matter from the
stone. (Optional) Absorbent cloth, for wiping or drying the
stone. A soft wood stick, such as an ice cream stick, for
removing small deposits of lichen from the stone. Paper or
plastic bags for trash, such as discarded masking tape and paper
towels, and a container for carrying all this into the graveyard.
(Optional) A thin rubber glove to protect the rubbing hand
from paint. Because skill is required to control the application
of paint, you should first experiment with this technique using
objects other than gravestones. Make experimental rubbings of tiles,
book covers. iron gratings, pressed flowers or leaves glued to a
sheet of paper or cardboard, even raised wood grain--anything with
a surface design in relief. Experimenting with a variety of papers
and surfaces will help develop the skill needed to successfully
use the gravestone rubbing technique described here. Only after
you have achieved some good rubbings and are confident that you
can control the paint and will not deface the object being rubbed
should you proceed to the graveyard for the purpose of using this
rubbing technique on an old gravestone. Even then, you should first
make some gravestone rubbings using rubbing wax (available from
Oldstone Enterprises. c/o Ray Bentley, 186 Lincoln Street, Boston,
MA O2111, telephone 6l7/542-4112) or lumberman's chalk, available
at many hardware stores. Rubbing with these materials will give
you valuable experience with the texture, shape and carving of the
stones without the threat of defacing them with paint.
THE TECHNIQUE 1. Study the stone. Determine whether
or not it is sound. A stone with cracks, spalling, an eroded surface,
or a hollow sound when lightly thumped with a finger should not
be rubbed. A stone that is cut in high relief cannot be successfully
rubbed using this technique. Sharp protuberances such as the nose
on a carved face are especially hazardous as these protrusions tend
to break the paper and allow paint to penetrate onto the stone.
2. Clean the stone, carefully. This rubbing technique is
very sensitive and will show any particles of dirt, lichen, or erosion.
Avoid eroding surfaces. Avoid stones with more than a few small
spots of lichen. Do not use anything but water to wash the stone.
Experiments have shown that a chemical added to the water can result
in damage that sometimes becomes apparent years later. 3.
Record data. If you are eager and enthusiastic to make your rubbing,
you may be tempted to record the data after you finish your rubbing.
However, experience will probably teach you that an interruption
(such as rain) or fatigue, or simple memory failure will eventually
result in your failing to make the notes if you wait. I suggest
you record the location, name of the deceased, death date, the stonecarver
(if known), and the date the rubbing is made. If you do not rub
the whole stone, you may want to transcribe the inscription.
4. Cover the area to be rubbed with paper and secure it firmly to
the stone with masking tape. To protect the stone, the paper must
be considerably larger than the area to be rubbed. 5. Using
your finger, rub the paper against the stone, indenting the paper
where the stone is incised. This is a laborious process and one
that is often omitted, but it is worth the labor. Omitting this
procedure insures that the quality of the rubbing will be inferior.
6. Apply paint to the applicator. Wrap a small section of
nylon around the index finger of your rubbing hand. Squeeze a pea-size
dab of oil paint onto the pallet. Using the covered finger, rub
this dab into the applicator (the nylon covered finger or the felt
or the dauber). 7. Test the paint on the applicator by rubbing
it onto a paper towel. Experience is needed to determine whether
there is too much or too little paint on the applicator, and whether
it is evenly spread. 8. Carefully, rub the applicator over
the incised surface of the paper. As you rub, the image of the carving
will appear. With experience, you can emphasize certain areas of
your rubbing, making them darker or lighter. Colors can be used,
and mixed. (I like to make a rubbing the color of the stone.)
One dab of paint may be enough to rub an entire stone--or it may
not, in which case you will add paint to the applicator. One piece
of nylon is usually adequate for rubbing a stone, but it may wear,
causing streaks as you rub, and need replacement. Experimenting
and patience are the required ingredients for proceeding with the
rubbing process. This is where you can be creative, and where each
person's work differs from anyone else's. 9. When you are
satisfied, remove the rubbing and place it in a safe place, out
of the wind and away from the threat of moisture. Attach your notes
to it with a paper clip. 10. Clean up trash. Collect your
rubbish (the used masking tape, paper towels, and anything else
you want to discard) and put them in your trash bag. Try to leave
the yard neater than you found it. 11. After it is dry, roll
your rubbing(s) onto a cardboard tube for storage. 12. You
may want to mount your rubbing on museum board. I suggest you do
this with dry mounting tissue. This tissue is available in photo
supply stores, which can also give you directions for its use. Or
you can have the job done by a professional framer. If you decide
to do the mounting yourself, you should first mount a practice rubbing,
or a blank sheet of rubbing paper. It is very discouraging to spoil
one's work at this stage. 13. If you mount your rubbing,
it is possible to "clean it up" using an eraser. The eraser
on a pencil will do, but if you make many rubbings, you may want
to purchase an Eberhard Faber Pink Pearl Soft Pencil Eraser #4-00,
or something similar. 14. Sign your rubbing and, using the
data you recorded, label it by name of deceased, date, location,
etc. I suggest you do this with a lead pencil. 15. (Optional)
Spray your rubbing. Number 1301 Krylon Acrylic spray coating, available
at art supply stores, will protect the finished product from smudging
and from dust.
ESTABLISHING RUBBING/DAUBING CRITERIA The practice
of making gravestone rubbings has aroused controversy, notably at
the 1976 Dublin Seminar(12). Some communities and the entire state
of New Hampshire have restricted rubbing to those who have obtained
a permit. Ideally, such legislation should also require that the
applicant demonstrate competence in the acceptable rubbing technique
before being given a permit. Such steps have been taken because
of an increasing number of incidents where stones have been defaced
by careless applications of wax or ink. A very serious example of
such accidents has occurred in Columbia, Connecticut; the Lydia
Bennitt stone (Ludwig, plate 244), one of the most beautiful marbles
in New England, has been disfigured, perhaps permanently, by a black
ink-like substance, presumably applied by a person using an Oriental
style wet ink rubbing technique. Persons taking rubbings
from gravestones must understand that stones differ in their fragility.
While a sound stone can be rubbed with perfect safety, many are
so delicate that touching the surface could cause the detachment
of a major portion of the design. Connecticut Valley sandstones
are particularly susceptible to damage from handling, but every
stone should be examined carefully before rubbing. If cracks can
be seen, if a hollow sound is heard when the face of the stone is
tapped lightly with the back of a fingernail, or if grains become
detached when the stone is rubbed with the fingertip, the stone
should not be rubbed. Even greater caution should be exercised
in making three dimensional castings of gravestone designs. Casting
materials which might penetrate or stain a stone, or release compounds
which could eventually discolor and become insoluble, such as vegetable
oil aerosols like Pam, should never be applied to the surface of
a gravestone. Enforcing rubbing standards is difficult for
municipalities, especially since most rubbings are done on weekends,
when offices which issue permits and offer advice and guidelines
are closed. Therefore, the task may be left largely to word-of-mouth
transmission by interested individuals.
Patrick Crocker firstname.lastname@example.org