Wednesday, April 7, 2010


click on images to enlarge


The Headstone's final resting place (and ours too) at the Langley Cemetery

Reverse side of headstone

In the Beginning...

- 2


I carved the headstone in 16th/17th century New England style. Things just seemed to fall into place for the creation of the stone. Death, as a potentially liberating experience (metaphoric and literal) has been a theme in my art and life for many years. It is the essential mythos described in my book and Parabola/Sentient Publications documentary film made about my art and life.
My wife Marilyn Strong trained with Jerrigrace Lyons of Final Passages and is currently doing home and family funerals through Visser Funeral Home. Marilyn is also president of the Langley Woodmen Cemetery Board here on Whidbey Island. She worked with the Board and Langley City Council to establish a green burial section of the cemetery recently. There are very few green burial sites in Washington State or in the country, generally. Green Burial is however, an emerging national trend so hopefully we will have a better option than polluting the earth and ground water with enormous amounts of toxins that are used in our current burial process. We recently purchased one of the new green burial plots at the cemetery so I decided to carve a headstone for the two of us.
I had it in mind to create my own headstone for many years. I was originally inspired by an older Eastern European man I knew in my teens. He was an artist and made his own beautiful headstone out of free-form cement, embedded with glass and ceramic fragments. It wasn’t until years later that I was driving by a large cemetery in the New York area, where I grew up, that I saw his headstone from a distance and discovered the man had died.
I carved ours out of stone, which was an enormously difficult task, not actually knowing what I was doing when I began. The base for the stone is made of formed concrete and includes a special piece of embedded marble. The marble was found on the beach of a sacred site on the isle of Iona, Scotland Marilyn, being a fan of C.G Jung and loving the fact that he carved words and images into stone, took up the hammer and chisel at one point and helped create the very feminine spiral on the back of our stone. The stone was completed on Easter day -- a fitting end-date.
With the help of my friend Van, I installed the headstone on site April 7th.
There is something both mysterious and liberating about giving one’s self, in an embodied way, to facing one’s own ultimate demise – even if only as a symbolic gesture.
Friend and poet Judith Adams happened to be walking with her dogs in the cemetery one day when I was there measuring the ground for placement of the stone and she sent me 2 wonderful poems she wrote that were inspired by the encounter:

Jerry’s Gravestone

We keep the dead separate.
How can it be otherwise, for
they hob -nob with God in person,
under slabs of mossed stone,
they have their supine conversations.

You kneel on the spring grass
to assess your compact property,
your death cot between strangers,
a tape measure dangling off center,
your face like a boy with a great scheme;

and like a boy, not afraid of the
big bad wolf, at ease
with the exciting pulse of
the unknowable, say,
of Voldemort or Aslan.

Standing there watching is a novelty.
We are used to planning the future.
Designing a house or flowerbeds
is a sensuous occupation,
an understandable manifestation.

But your own headstone!
The carving, the quote, shocking!
The illusive inevitability
deliciously chilling and
the final province along with

the only, true alumna sublime.
People will say to one another,
“there’s no date of the departed.”
They will think,
“This man likes to skirt the premises,

to rattle the door a bit, to live
with the tremor, the paramount visitation
of the dreaded terminus.
Only when skeletons dance,
is the party is in full swing!

-By Judith Adams

Grave Stone

You have not finished your grave stone yet,
I want to come across it one day on the undisturbed grass.
A great surprise as I round the bend with the dogs.
The carved skeleton, and chiseled words of a poem,
the joint resting place, and the weather
would be significant too.

What if every bride and groom undertook
the task to find words at the beginning
that survive the hand grenades of marriage?
What if the blushing bride and nervous groom
had worked away for weeks on a death project;
an artistic expression of the hyphenated life,

a home for lichen, eternal silence, the use of
language sparse and demands an undisguised
journey, amid acquisitive romance.
The bringing in of a dark stranger
with chilling suggestions a robust embrace,
a raw pre nuptial, that challenges constancy,

a wonderfully morbid and
charming commitment.
And I am sure,
the use of
course sand paper
is happily discussed!

- By Judith Adams

Here is an inspiring video about hand carving headstones in early New England Style.