Saturday, June 29, 2019

Preserving stones

How did people pick out their gravestones before the internet? Maybe you want a big cross or a small rectangle. Fancy script or an image of a person. In the past, help with these options came in the form of from a travelling salesman carrying a big book filled with images of stone shapes and colors, etched plates, and examples of lettering. This was just one of the neat history facts unearthed at a gravestone cleaning workshop at the historic St. George’s Cemetery in. Newburgh.

Cemetery expert and Town of Delhi Historian Marianne Greenfield led the session on Saturday, June 22 which covered gravestone varieties, construction, and the care and restoration of stones which can be hundreds of years old. As owner of Delhi-based Gravestone Cleaning Service and member of the Association of Gravestone Studies, she is familiar with the right way to clean a gravestones using methods that are both environmentally and historically sound.

Greenfield’s approach to her work abides by the tenant of archaeology “to do no harm.” Household cleaning products are disastrous to stones. Chemicals like bleach work against the process or preservation by disrupting the matrix that gives the stone its integrity, particularly for very thin marble varieties. Gravestones are porous and absorb liquid. The only cleaning solution Greenfield uses is D/2 Biological Solution, a biodegradable liquid that removes stains caused by “biota,” or natural substances, like mold, lichens, mildew and algae. It is safe on architectural materials such as marble, limestone, granite, stucco, and more. The solution is non-toxic and doesn’t even require gloves or ventilation. It is safe to use around plantings and continues to clean historical monuments across the U.S. including the White House and Arlington Cemetery.

Greenfield’s workshop participants sprayed D/2 on the stones and let it sit for 15 minutes. What to scrub with? Not wire brushes which can nick surfaces creating opportunistic cracks that expand in winter when ice enters. Greenfield starts with a chiseling motion with wood chopsticks followed by firm but gentle motions with a plastic scrub brush. Greenfield discourages the use of weed killers like RoundUp which are not only environmentally toxic, but kill grass surrounding the stones creating brown sludge which loosens stones and leads to instability.

Many stones were covered with layers of lichen, which is a reaction between fungus and algae. Despite public perception lichen is not harmful to the stones and actually acts as a preservation feature. An acid eating theory was disproved when studies of the faces of newly-scraped lichen-covered stones revealed the lichen side to be 1/8” thicker than the side that was exposed to rain which contains elements of pollution. After scrubbing the stones were rinsed with water.

Greenfield pointed out different styles of gravestones at St. George’s Cemetery including obelisk, white bronze, and sandstone tablets. Some stones have a “popped” textured base that looks like crinkled paper. Other stones can have images of people. Greenfield talked about Civil-war era stones with faces that were created when photography was still in its infancy.

Participants saw a demonstration of “triangulation” during which an angled mirror directs sunlight onto the face of a stone, illuminating its surface for better visibility and photography. Greenfield touched on gravestone rubbings, a practice of recording etchings by covering an etched stone with paper and rubbing the surface with a wax crayon. Doing this ethically means not letting the wax touch the stone and she recounted a story about coming across a gravestone smeared with wax which transferred when a piece of paper was flipped and used twice.  

The workshop was an informative and accessible way to walk through this magnificent cemetery and get close up with restoration practices that preserve history.

Gravestone Cleaning Service: 
Association of Gravestone Studies:

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Moving Ice

During warmer months the Hudson River buzzes with sounds from boats, tourists, wildlife and waves. In winter new sounds emerge as the water continues to flow underneath frozen chunks of ice. Visit the river after a stretch of deep cold and you’ll find the sounds of pops and cracks punctuating the otherwise silent air of a winter day.

The Village of Cold Spring is a great place to hear the sounds of a river in a state of deep freeze. This village in Putnam County borders the Hudson with a park. Part of the Cold Spring Waterfront Project, the park’s lighting and railing on an existing large brick-paved dock were added in 2012. The scenic look out is an hour and 15 minutes from Grand Central Station and an easy walk from the train station.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Temple colors

When director Martin Scorsese was making his 1997 film Kundun, the story of the 14th Dalai Lama which is set in mid-20th century Tibet, he needed to film scenes in a traditional Tibetan Buddhist temple. Scorsese and his team trekked to the Ulster County village of Woodstock and found Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) which is none other than a traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The location’s main shrine room is so meticulously authentically designed and one of the few changes the crew made before filming was lining the wood floor with plastic followed by a layer of packed earth.

The site was founded in 1976 by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje who leads the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu Lineage of Buddhism. He presently lives in India and KTD serves as his North American seat. This location for teachings was established as a response to the desire of Western students for an authentic Tibetan monastery for their studies.

KTD has lots of activities for people regardless of spiritual affiliation including teachings, retreats and classes. Daily sitting and walking meditation sessions are open to the public. The Saturday schedule features a guided tour of the monastery at 1pm followed by an optional intro to meditation class in the shrine room. Studies show a regular meditation practice helps participants strengthen concentration and clarity of the mind, and can simultaneously build a foundation for Buddhist practices if these are the goal. Visitors can sit in on an Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism on Wednesday evenings, and a Dharma Book Study Class on Thursdays. KTD’s website has a summary of each event to help visitors plan their trip.

The bookstore, called Namse Bangdzo which roughly translates to Guardian of the North and Treasure House, is open every day. It is filled with books, art, statuary, gifts, and Dharma (teachings) practice materials.

The group’s dedication to service extends far beyond the monastery walls. Participation in community activities includes volunteering with the region’s nonprofit, creative, and service organizations.  Traditional teachings stress the importance of service regarding environmental conservation, vegetarianism, and service to people in need.

Karma Triyana Dharmachakra: