Neighbor

Neighbor: Karin Sprague
Pamela Berard
RI Monthly, Vol. 17, no. 12
March 2009

There is a ministry to the work that I do. I encourage families to bring photos of the person who has passed. I want to know how they lived their life. I want to listen to the music they listened to and know the books they loved. I want to get a vision of how this person's life was, and how this stone should be. Each one is far different from the next one.

When I was younger I would stroll around burial grounds. I loved the serenity. And I loved reading the stories on the stones. I was fascinated with letter design; it was intuitive. I can remember cutting out letters from different cereal boxes and was just knocked out by how the "C" in cheerios was different from the "C" in content.

Sometimes we are blessed with wakeup calls. I was in art school in Connecticut majoring in photography. I'm nineteen and a clerk at a pharmacy, and I'm held up at gunpoint with a sawed-off shotgun. I survived it physically, but emotionally it shook me to the core. I realized I wasn't on the right path. That's when I unplugged and went in search of myself. I moved to Block Island in 1984. I told everybody I'm just going to spend the winter out there and think about things. Well, four years later I left the island, after falling in love.

I was introduced to a teacher, David Klinger, in 1991. I had been carving wood signs for twelve years. He was doing beautiful stone sculptural work. David gave me a tablet and asked me to carve some letters. I can clearly say there was an ignition in my soul. I thought, "This is what I've been waiting for all my life."

The first gravestone I carved was in 1996, after my father-in-law died suddenly. I had barely finished that one when an article came out about it and I was commissioned to do four more. It hasn't stopped. We're up to about twenty-four a year. Thirty percent of the work we do is for the living. They hear about my work and come in and say, "I want you to carve my stone. I don't want to leave this to my kids."

You walk through the new sections of cemeteries today, and you see "John Smith, 1937-2004," separated by a dash. But how did you live your dash? There's no story. A lot of today's signs, everything is computer font and sterile and doesn't have any soul. The most important tool I use is my heart. I don't think this art will ever die."

* * *

© 2009 RI Monthly