SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 4, 2013

Art for the dead

Gravestone Girls to give virtual tour of cemeteries

DANVERS — Brenda Sullivan always cherished the time she spent in the cemetery. When she was a child growing up in Southborough, her mom would take her on frequent visits to the family burial ground to take gravestone rubbings, impressions of a headstone made on paper using a pencil or a piece of charcoal.

“They’re peaceful, quiet places that are safe and full of history,” said Sullivan, 43. “They are just as much for the living as they are for the dead.”

Those visits stayed with Sullivan, and after leaving a job with an international shoe manufacturer, she connected with two other gravestone enthusiasts, Melissa Anderson, 43, of Worcester and Maggie White, 34, of Southborough.

The three began traveling to cemeteries around Massachusetts, across the United States and occasionally overseas and coined the name “Gravestone Girls.”

Soon, they began making three-dimensional gravestone rubbings and selling their work through small art shows, friends and families.

“Nothing says Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas like a gravestone,” Sullivan said.

The business has now expanded to include everything from private commissions and tombstone replications to locating family stones and public programming at local libraries.

On Wednesday, the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers will host the Gravestone Girls for a 90-minute virtual tour of Danvers cemeteries. The tour will include images ranging from Colonial burial grounds through those of the 21st century and is free to the public.

“We are very excited to hear their perspective,” said Donna Maturi, head of reference services at the library. “We contracted them to do research in the area because it has a rich Colonial history.”

To some, the art of gravestone rubbing might seem gruesome or grim.

“We always have one person run out of our sessions with their arms flailing because they are put off by the work we do,” Sullivan said.

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