Gravestone rubbing is the practice of creating a detailed replica of a grave marker or headstone by placing a piece of paper over the inscription and rubbing it with a crayon or charcoal. This technique is used by genealogists, historians, and artists to preserve the memory of the deceased as well as to study the artistic and cultural aspects of the grave markers.
The practice of gravestone rubbing has been around for centuries and is a great way to pay respect to the deceased while also learning more about the history and culture of the area.
- What is gravestone rubbing, and why do you do it?
- But why would you want to do gravestone rubbing?
- How to prepare for gravestone rubbing
- How to choose a suitable gravestone
- How to do gravestone rubbing step by step
- How to use and display your gravestone rubbing
Gravestone rubbing is a creative and rewarding activity that can help you preserve a piece of history, honor your ancestors, or explore your local cemetery. But how do you do it properly and respectfully? In this article, we will guide you through the process of gravestone rubbing, from choosing the right materials and gravestones to making and displaying your rubbings.
What is gravestone rubbing, and why do you do it?
Gravestone rubbing, also known as tombstone rubbing or stone rubbing, is the practice of creating an image of the surface features of a gravestone on paper or fabric. The image records the natural textures, inscribed patterns, or lettering of the gravestone. By rubbing a hard material over the paper or fabric, pigment is deposited over the protrusions and edges, while the depressions remain unpigmented. The result is a contrasting impression of the gravestone that reveals its details and character.
But why would you want to do gravestone rubbing?
There are many reasons, depending on your interests and goals. Here are some of the most common ones:
The history and significance of gravestone rubbing
Gravestone rubbing has a long and rich history, dating back to ancient times. It was used by scholars, artists, and travelers to document and study the cultural and historical artifacts of different civilizations, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese calligraphy, or European heraldry. Gravestone rubbing is also a way of preserving and honoring the memory of the deceased, especially those who have made significant contributions to society, such as famous writers, artists, or heroes. Gravestone rubbing can help you connect with the past and appreciate the diversity and beauty of human culture and expression.
The benefits and challenges of gravestone rubbing
Gravestone rubbing can be a fun and educational activity for people of all ages and backgrounds. It can help you develop your artistic skills, enhance your observation and attention to detail, and stimulate your curiosity and imagination. Gravestone rubbing can also be a therapeutic and spiritual experience, as it can help you cope with grief, express your emotions, or reflect on your own mortality and legacy. However, gravestone rubbing also comes with some challenges, such as finding the right materials and gravestones, following the proper techniques and etiquette, and dealing with the weather and environmental conditions.
The ethical and legal issues of gravestone rubbing
Gravestone rubbing is not always welcomed or allowed by the authorities or the owners of the gravestones. Some gravestones may be considered too fragile, sacred, or private to be rubbed, and some cemeteries may have rules or regulations that prohibit or restrict gravestone rubbing. Gravestone rubbing can also cause damage or deterioration to the gravestones, especially if done improperly or excessively. Therefore, it is important to respect the wishes and rights of the people involved and to seek permission and guidance before doing gravestone rubbing. It is also important to follow the principles of conservation and preservation and to avoid harming or altering the gravestones in any way.
How to prepare for gravestone rubbing
Before you head out to the cemetery, you need to prepare some essential items for gravestone rubbing. Here are the main ones:
Paper or fabric
This is the material that you will use to make the rubbing. It should be large enough to cover the entire gravestone and thin enough to conform to the contours of the surface. It should also be durable enough to withstand the rubbing and the weather and smooth enough to produce a clear image. Some of the best choices are plain white paper, butcher paper, rice paper, or Pellon interfacing material. You can obtain rice paper from art supply stores and pellon from craft and fabric shops.
Tape or tack
This is the material that you will use to attach the paper or fabric to the gravestone. It should be easy to apply and remove and strong enough to hold the paper or fabric in place. It should also be gentle enough to not damage or leave any residue on the gravestone. Some of the best choices are masking tape, painter’s tape, or poster tack.
This is the material that you will use to rub over the paper or fabric and create the image of the gravestone. It should be hard enough to transfer pigment to the paper or fabric and soft enough to not scratch or tear the paper or fabric. It should also be dark enough to create a contrasted image and consistent enough to cover the surface evenly. Some of the best choices are charcoal, wax, graphite, or inksticks. You can obtain charcoal and graphite from art supply stores, wax from candle shops, and inksticks from Asian markets.
These are the tools that you will use to clean the gravestone before and after rubbing. They should be gentle enough to not harm or erode the gravestone and effective enough to remove any dirt or debris that may interfere with the rubbing. Some of the best choices are a soft brush, a spray bottle with distilled water, a clean rag, and a rubber band.
How to choose a suitable gravestone
Once you have gathered your materials, you need to choose a suitable gravestone for rubbing. There are many factors to consider, such as:
The age and condition of the gravestone
Older and more fragile gravestones may not be suitable for rubbing, as they may crumble, crack, or break under pressure. You should avoid gravestones that show signs of decay, erosion, or damage, such as missing pieces, cracks, holes, or loose parts. You should also avoid gravestones that are covered with moss, lichen, or fungus, as they may be too delicate or slippery to rub.
The design and inscription of the gravestone
The design and inscription of the gravestone are the main features that you want to capture in your rubbing. You should look for gravestones that have well-defined and interesting text and patterns, such as names, dates, epitaphs, symbols, or images. You should also look for gravestones that have a style and theme that appeal to you, such as Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco, or modern.
The location and permission of the gravestone
The location and permission of the gravestone are the main factors that determine whether you can rub it or not. You should look for gravestones in inaccessible and safe areas, such as public cemeteries, parks, or museums. You should also look for gravestones that are not owned or protected by anyone, such as family members, religious groups, or historical societies. You should always ask for permission and guidance from the authorities or the owners of the gravestones before rubbing them, and respect their wishes and rights. You should also be considerate of other visitors or mourners and avoid disturbing or offending them.
How to do gravestone rubbing step by step
After you have selected your gravestone, you are ready to do the rubbing. Here are the steps to follow:
Step 1: Clean the gravestone gently
Use the soft brush to remove any loose dirt or debris from the surface of the gravestone. If needed, use the spray bottle to moisten the surface slightly, and wipe it with the rag. Do not use any chemicals or abrasives, as they may damage or discolor the gravestone. Do not scrub or rub too hard, as you may erode or scratch the gravestone. Do not clean more than necessary, as you may lose some of the original features or character of the gravestone.
Step 2: Attach the paper or fabric securely
Cut the paper or fabric to a size slightly larger than the gravestone. Place it over the gravestone, making sure it covers the entire area that you want to rub. Use the tape or tack to secure the paper or fabric to the gravestone along the edges and corners. Make sure the paper or fabric is flat and smooth, without any wrinkles or folds. Do not use too much tape or tack, as you may damage or leave marks on the gravestone. Do not cover any important features or details of the gravestone with tape or tack.
Step 3: Rub the surface evenly
Use the rubbing material to rub over the paper or fabric, following the contours and shapes of the gravestone. Start from the center and work your way outward, using circular or linear motions. Apply gentle and even pressure without pressing too hard or too lightly. Use the same rubbing material throughout, or switch to different ones for different effects. For example, you can use charcoal for a dark and dramatic image, wax for a colorful and glossy image, graphite for a metallic and shiny image, or inksticks for a traditional and artistic image.
Step 4: Remove the paper or fabric carefully
When you are satisfied with your rubbing, remove the tape or tack from the paper or fabric and peel it off the gravestone. Be careful not to tear or smudge the paper or fabric or disturb the gravestone. Check your rubbing for any errors or imperfections, and make any corrections or enhancements if needed. For example, you can use an eraser to remove any unwanted marks, a pencil to add any missing details, or a marker to highlight any features.
Step 5: Label and store the rubbing properly
Write the name, date, and location of the gravestone on the back of the paper or fabric, along with any other information or notes that you want to record. Fold or roll the paper or fabric carefully, and place it in a protective envelope or tube. Store the rubbing in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight, heat, or moisture. Do not stack or bend the rubbing, as it may crease or crack.
How to use and display your gravestone rubbing
After you have made your gravestone rubbing, you may want to use and display it in various ways. Here are some suggestions:
How to preserve and protect your gravestone rubbing
To prevent your gravestone rubbing from fading, tearing, or deteriorating, you may want to preserve and protect it with some treatments. For example, you can spray a fixative or varnish over the rubbing to seal and stabilize the pigment.
You can also laminate or mount the rubbing on a board to reinforce and support the paper or fabric. However, be aware that some treatments may alter or damage the original appearance or quality of the rubbing, so use them with caution and discretion.
How to frame and hang your gravestone rubbing
To showcase your gravestone rubbing, you may want to frame and hang it on a wall, like a painting or a photograph. You can choose a frame that matches the style and theme of the rubbing, such as a wooden, metal, or plastic frame. You can also add a mat or a glass to enhance the look and protection of the rubbing.
Make sure the frame is sturdy and secure, and the hanging hardware is appropriate and reliable. Choose a spot that is suitable and visible, such as a living room, a bedroom, or a hallway. Avoid places that are exposed to direct sunlight, heat, or moisture, as they may damage or fade the rubbing.
How to share and research your gravestone rubbing
To share your gravestone rubbing with others, you may want to post it on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. You can also join online communities or forums, such as Ancestry, Find A Grave, or Billion Graves, where you can connect with other gravestone enthusiasts, exchange tips and stories, and discover new gravestones.
To research your gravestone rubbing, you may want to look up the meaning and origin of the text and symbols on the gravestone, such as the name, date, epitaph, or image. You can also trace the genealogy and history of the person buried under the gravestone, such as their family, occupation, or achievements. You may find some surprising or fascinating information that can enrich your understanding and appreciation of the gravestone and the person behind it.
Gravestone rubbing is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby that can help you create beautiful and meaningful artwork while also learning about the past and honoring the dead. By following the steps and tips in this article, you can do gravestone rubbing safely and respectfully and make the most of your experience. Whether you are interested in art, history, or genealogy, gravestone rubbing can offer you a unique and satisfying way of exploring and expressing your passion.
- Q: Is gravestone rubbing legal?
- Gravestone rubbing is not illegal per se, but it may be subject to the rules and regulations of the cemetery or the owner of the gravestone. Some cemeteries or owners may allow or encourage gravestone rubbing, while others may prohibit or discourage it. Therefore, it is always advisable to ask for permission and guidance before doing gravestone rubbing and to respect the wishes and rights of the people involved.
- Q: Is gravestone rubbing harmful?
- Gravestone rubbing can be harmful if done improperly or excessively, as it may cause damage or deterioration to the gravestone. For example, it may scratch, crack, or erode the surface of the gravestone, or remove or alter the original pigment or patina of the gravestone. Therefore, it is important to follow the proper techniques and etiquette when doing gravestone rubbing and to avoid harming or altering the gravestone in any way.
- Q: What are some of the best places to do gravestone rubbing?
- Some of the best places to do gravestone rubbing are those that have a variety and abundance of gravestones, such as public cemeteries, parks, or museums. These places may have gravestones that span different periods, styles, and cultures and that display different texts, symbols, and images. These places may also have more accessibility and permission for gravestone rubbing, as they may be open to the public and have staff or guides that can assist you. However, you should always check the rules and regulations of the place before doing gravestone rubbing and follow them accordingly.
- Q: How can I improve my gravestone-rubbing skills?
- You can improve your gravestone rubbing skills by practicing and experimenting with different materials, techniques, and gravestones. You can also learn from other gravestone rubbers by observing their work, asking for their advice, or joining their groups or classes. You can also read books or watch videos on gravestone rubbing, such as [Gravestone Rubbing for Beginners] by Nancy Lyon or [How to Make a Tombstone Rubbing] by eHow. You can also visit websites or blogs on gravestone rubbing, such as [Gravestone Rubbing Supplies] or [The Art of Gravestone Rubbing].
- Q: What are some of the things to avoid when doing gravestone rubbing?
- Some of the things to avoid when doing gravestone rubbing are:
- Using inappropriate or damaging materials, such as paper towels, duct tape, crayons, or markers
- Rubbing too hard or too lightly, or using inconsistent or uneven pressure
- Rubbing gravestones that are too old, fragile, or sacred, or that belong to or are protected by someone else
- Rubbing gravestones without permission or guidance, or without respecting the rules and regulations of the cemetery or the owner,
- Rubbing gravestones in bad weather or environmental conditions, such as rain, snow, wind, or heat,
- Rubbing gravestones in a disrespectful or disruptive manner, such as making noise, littering, or disturbing other visitors or mourners