A couple weeks ago I journeyed to Forest Hills Cemetery on a mission: Find out which structures in the cemetery are art.
Let me tell you, it is not always clear.
Forest Hills Cemetery is one of those sprawling Victorian cemeteries that functions as a giant botanical garden. People walk their dogs, go running, take historical tours. Some of us have even gone on dates there. It’s not exactly seen as a sad place, more like a big park with a bunch of rocks that happen to be gravestones—and a lot of sculptures that are not. (If being an arboretum and graveyard wasn’t enough, it’s also a sculpture garden.)
But which structures are which? And what are the limits of what a gravestone can be? Should there be any limit? Should I request to be buried under a life-size Waldo replica of “Where’s Waldo?” fame as both a testament to my childhood love for the books and a nod to the grand mystery that is death?
Anyway, which is art and which is a gravestone:
I mean, I wish it was a monument representing the abstract concept. That kind of positivity would be a pretty nice presence in a graveyard. But it’s just a surname written on a stone. Good stone though!
This statue of a human male of indiscriminate age (I think young?) and mood (at peace, maybe?) holding a bird is the resting place of the artist Kahlil Gibran. It looks like his work, so I guess he sculpted his own grave marker.
He also did a statue of Ceres that stands near “Lake”-Hibiscus-that-is-actually-just-a-pond in the cemetery.
This may not be a gravestone, but it’s an interesting marker nonetheless. Perhaps this is a metaphor for a person’s struggle to find peace in life, with death being a relief from contortions. Perhaps it is a metaphor for being boxed up and buried, and this figure will remain this way eternally or until the stone is destroyed. Perhaps this is getting too serious and we should move on.
Mausoleum? Nope. In fact this is one house in a miniature village, and each of these houses is about one hand high. So what’s the deal with this tiny village?
It’s called Neighbors and the houses each represent specific people buried in the cemetery and what their community roles were. Neighbors addresses the idea of “home” before and after death. Bonus: There is a geocache in a stump nearby for visitors to check out or geochachers to do whatever geocachers do.
It is really hard to tell with some of the sculptural monuments what is art and what is a grave, especially the ones of people, especially especially the ones of women. When it comes to life-size sculptures, women seem to be the preferred gravestone guardians. Anyway, with The Sentinel, sculptor Fern Cunningham “commemorates both the strong women in her own family and her African ancestors.”
Okay, this is an excellent gravestone. A+, truly. For one, it is a giant eagle ascending into flight.
For two, instead of “died x date” the stone reads “killed x date” which is sad, but also much more descriptive. People don’t play with verbs much on their gravestones. It’s always “died” or “d.” or just a line break after the name and a cold entry into dates. Not often do people have giant metal eagles constructed over their resting place and stones engraved with “killed x date.” This seems like a pretty big parental FU to someone, but I’m not sure who. I guess “the enemy.” This grave is too stereotypically American what with the eagle and the military rank and all for any blame to be directed at the government. Based on the date, Kitchell Snow may have been involved in the Banana Wars.
I always thought these were super creepy gravestones until the internet told me they are just benches put there in 2001. There’s something really off putting about beds outside in a graveyard. I mean, I get it: sick bed, death bed, eternal rest, etc. And they are well made and everything. But I do not want to sit on this. For one, stone is cold. But I have sat on stone plenty of times, so I don’t know. At least they aren’t graves. I personally think they would make terrible gravestones. Unless someone really loved naps and wanted to commemorate them.
This one should totally be art because it’s in a glass encasement, like it’s at a museum. But the glass is not there because of some worried curator protecting a priceless art piece, it’s there because of some worried parent who wanted to protect the marble statue of their son doing some fun things, hanging out in a boat with a tennis racket etc., from weather damage. (Apparently all the marble in this cemetery used to look like this but is now grey and moss-covered.) Forest Hills cemetery calls it a “memorial” so I’m not certain he is actually buried there.
There’s another glass-encased marble child elsewhere on the premises. The glass encasements do have a kind of ghost-in-a-jar effect, so I am not sure how I feel about them.
At a distance, you would think this could very easily be a hippie’s recycled ceramics mosaic grave, but it is in fact some hippie’s recycled ceramics mosaic art.
No, this space age looking structure is not the resting place of a scientist or eccentric professor or George Jetson. It wasn’t even inspired by anything space-related. It was inspired by this line about vents from Shakepeare’s Troilus and Cressida: “Look, how thy wounds do bleed at many vents!” More like “Look how thy soundwaves do transmit to many aliens.”
I love seeing the occasional hulking geometric stone in the middle of a sea of aging marble. “Math!” it loudly proclaims.
Dogs are the best. Regardless of how terrible humans treat each other sometimes, it’s a comfort to know we always have dogs. So why not bury your loved one under a statue of their excellent Newfoundland? Seems like a pretty good idea to me. This gravestone is just as good as the eagle gravestone, but in a different way.
I would like to meet the person who would choose this as a gravestone. (It also It makes me wonder what the rules are about gravestones at Forest Hills as far as movement and interactivity are concerned, and whether gravestones have to be static sculptures.) This large wind-mill looking thing is called Flock of Birds and is a study of movement and light. It is easily the liveliest thing at the cemetery, and there are always kids playing around it.
Note: I accept that gravestones can still count as art. So I guess this is a trick quiz and all of these examples are art.