My last semster at RISD was during the fall of 2001, during which time I was also an exchange student at the FH-Wiesbaden in Germany. I completed my degree project while abroad. It aimed to compare narratives implicit within Jewish gravestones in Newport, Rhode Island and those in Worms, Germany.
Why Jewish gravestones in Newport and Worms? The inspiration for this project (and the Newport Connection) stems from two courses that I took earlier at RISD. The first was The Jewish Narrative with Prof. Fink, a liberal arts class I took during the Spring of 2000 . The second was Introduction to the Hand-Drawn Letter, a class that I took during Wintersession in 1999 with John Hegnauer. In The Hand-Drawn Letter, we took a field trip to the Newport Common Burial Ground, to look at gravestones carved during the early 1700s. I have always been fascinated with this cemetery, having seen it many times during my childhood (my mother’s family is filled with Rhode Islanders). I came back to this cemetery one more time for my final project in The Jewish Narrative, comparing gravestones from its Jewish plots with those in its larger Christian portion.
The Newport Common Burial Ground; Newport, Rhode Island. Ultimately, the specific gravestone from Newport I chose to discuss in my degree project came from another, nearby cemetery.
What about Germany? I would havebeen foolish of me not to exploit my opportunities during semester abroad.
Alter jüdischer Friedhof, Worms, Germany.
In the end, my degree project took the form of a book and an acompaning flash-based website that explained the project’s process. I divided my semester more or less in half; during the first half, I travelled through Germany, visiting choice locations and writing sort of a “travelogue.” During the second half of the semester, I undertook the necessary design work. Below is not a summation of my degree project, but rather a few images that accompanied me during the work.
Photograph of the top portion of the stone from Newport that I discussed in my project. Carved by the Johns Stevens Shop during the 18th century, and located in the Touro Synagogue cemetery. The stone’s text is in Hebrew and English, set beneath a rather Puritan-looking angel’s head. The overall layout of the stone seems consistent of most of the Stevens Shop’s work for that period.
Photograph of the top portion of the stone from Worms that I discussed in my project. I do not know the date of this work, but the text is all in Hebrew, or at least all in the Hebrew alphabet.
Title spread from the book.
Sample spread from the book, showing the cemetery in Worms.
Another sample spread from the book.
Newport stone, full view.
Worms Stone, full view with me standing to the left. This picture was taken a few weeks after I finished my degree project, probably during the last week of December 2001.
This illustrates best why I love gravestones in the first place (from the Newport Common Burial Ground). I just think that these letters are beautiful, even if a bit imperfectly cut. Maybe that is even the charm.
Newport Cemeteries photo collection at flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/typeoff/sets/72157594298600675/
Worms photo collection at flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/typeoff/sets/72157594349598159/