Boston University, B.S., Mass Communication,
1983; Harvard, A.L.M., History of Art and Architecture, 2002; University of Delaware, M.A., History, 2004.
J. Ritchie Garrison
"The Lustrous Stone: Ornamental Marble and the Stonecutter in America, 1750-1880"
Since Antiquity people have associated marble with iconic objects and architecture. In eighteenth and nineteenth-century America, marble became recognized as a fashionable and highly prized material for use in architectural decoration, interior ornamentation and commemoration. White marble cemetery monuments and architectural elements such as sculpted chimneypieces and elaborately colored and tiled floors reflected progressive taste as well as fashion and luxury. The ascendance of marble in the hierarchy of decorative stone was largely responsible for the organization, professionalization, and specialization of the stonecutting industry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The formation and organization of the marble industry preceded the development of an American school of sculpture based on marble classical and Renaissance models, and it established the “marble works” trade, an elite branch of the stonecutting industry. Marble workers were highly skilled carvers producing carved and sculptural work. To succeed marble workers also needed the varied skills of salesman, businessman, importer, designer, and retailer for a specific luxury good. Taste and sensitivity to a customer’s needs were crucial, particularly in the selection of funerary monuments. By the mid-nineteenth century, steam-powered equipment for marble work and the associated capital costs fostered the creation of mid- to large-sized firms, that could respond sensitively, flexibly and creatively to the high demand for white marble, the popularity of the rural cemetery movement, and grieving families that wanted monuments characteristic of those landscapes. The advent of even more powerful stonecutting machinery, capable of carving fine detail in highly durable granite later in the nineteenth century, was a significant contributing factor to the decline of marble and the ascendance of granite as America’s dominant ornamental stone, a situation that continues today.