When choosing a headstone you may wish for something unusual or unique.
When people come to us to commission a headstone, they are often seeking something a little unusual and unique. An unusual headstone need not be large or stand out in a churchyard, but it might be unusual because of the material, size, lettering or carving chosen for example.
Here is a selection of some stunning unique and unusual headstones.
This headstone is unusual in its material- Purbeck is a beautifully patterned and textured stone which we do not use very often, but it is full of character. The headstone is also unusual in the use of gold. Being so light in colour we don’t often gild stones like Purbeck, but in this case, we wanted to echo the gold and pale stone colour in the background wall; if you look closely you will see some gold in the photograph. In doing so we have created a link between the headstone and surroundings which will work at a subliminal level without being too obvious.
This headstone has an unusual shape and carving at the top. The deceased was an expert on George Braque, a major 20th-century French painter, collagist, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Braque Hence the carving is inspired by Braque’s artwork which often featured birds.
This unusual and unique headstone also takes inspiration from a well-known designer, William Morris. Here we have taken a detail from William Morris’s design and incorporated it into a circle at the top of a tall and elegant stone. The carving is in the style of a linocut, focusing on the “negative” spaces which appear paler than the dark slate.
The poem chosen comes from the following prayer by Jonne Donne.
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity: in the habitations of thy majesty and glory, world without end.
This headstone also shows how you can make good use of the space on the back of a headstone, allowing the poem and carving to have maximum impact.
This unusual headstone uses a formal capital letter-form but laid out in an unconventional and informal manner. It lends a lightness and softness to the headstone inscription. The inscription is designed on paper and drawn out freely onto the stone before carving with only the eye as a guide.
This headstone is unique in the length of the inscription which dominates the headstone. The poem chosen is called High Flight and written by John Gillespie Magee who was a Royal Canadian airforce fighter pilot and poet. The words are uplifting and the headstone invites anyone who passes by to stop and read the poem, adding a great deal of interest to the churchyard. The names and dates are prominent at the top but do not distract at all from the poem which was carved in wonderfully free-flowing style. Rhythm and consistency are very important and it takes many years of experience to be able to layout such a long inscription in a unified and pleasing way.
This beautiful and unique slate headstone features a circle cut out in the slate and then gilded on the inside. It’s beautiful when the sunlight catches the gold and its shiny surface is reflected. We are quite often asked to carve a gilded disk on headstones, but this is a very lovely alternative.
This unusual headstone material is Hornton, chosen for its lovely aged appearance so that it will look like it’s been in place for years and blends immediately in with the surrounding stones. Sadly this material is currently unavailable.
This headstone is unique in the layout of the text in a block. Most people like the text to be laid out in lines, with the names and dates of birth on different lines followed by perhaps an epitaph at the end. It might make the text easier to read, but from a typographical angle, putting all the text together in a block produces a very pleasing and inviting piece of text, which itself has its own form and beauty. Adding a couple of leaves gives the text further interest and can help to balance the shape of the inscription. This is one of my favourite layouts, although I find not many clients choose it!
We chose this layout to reflect the career of the deceased: an award-winning advertising art director.
The top of the headstone is also an unconventional shape but shows that we don’t always need to be limited to set headstone shapes.
This unique headstone shows how we can arrange the text in a circle. I often suggest the use of a circle when a long list of attributes is wanted yet and we don’t want to lay the wording out in a long list. The carving in the centre of the golden apples is a nod to William Yeats, inspired by these lines from The Song of Wandering Aengus:
So though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
This fine headstone is unusual in its use of an inscription on the edge of the stone. We can do this only using certain materials like Portland limestone and in this case, Hopton Wood Limestone. We can’t carve into the edge of slate as it would risk lamination. Hopton Wood is one of my favourite headstone materials, sadly currently unavailable. The closest material which I now use in its place is Aurisina from Italy. Incorporating an inscription along the edge of the headstone allows the carving to have a greater impact in its own space.
This child’s headstone is unique and unusual not only in the free-hand lettering chosen but also in the pebble shape used. Pebble headstones in slate are wonderful and smooth to touch and this lends them an added intimacy which is particularly important when making a headstone for a child. The lettering was chosen for its “child-like” quality.
This headstone is unusually narrow and elegant in its proportions. I tend to favour tall narrow headstones over short and wide ones. This fine narrow headstone in Green slate was made to commemorate a child, and its proportions reflect the upward movement of the dandelion seeds floating from the clock.
This large carving incorporating thistle and acanthus leaves was commissioned as an offering to anyone who visits the churchyard; a gift to reflect the generosity of those commemorated by the headstone. The carving is in sunken relief in Portland limestone and must bring delight to anyone who walks around to the back of the headstone and discovers the carving. There are two main benefits of using the back of a headstone: firstly it frees up space on the front and allows plenty of additional room for a large carving or poem, and secondly, it offers a welcome surprise to someone who approaches the headstone from the front and happens to wander around to the back.
I hope these headstones have offered some inspiration and ideas. You do not need to choose a headstone from a list or catalogue; almost anything you could sketch on paper is possible, as long as it falls within churchyard regulations. Please don't hesitate to give me a ring if you would like any further guidance.
Fergus created Stoneletters Studio in 2003, after training at the Kindersley Workshop. He is a member of the prestigious Master Carver's Association.