Out of the Shadows Class: Creating a Headstone

Recently Michael Updike visited our Out of the Shadows class. Mr.Updike is a slate artist out of Newbury, Massachusetts. He will be engraving the headstone we are installing to honor former Andover slave Lucy Foster. A headstone is the last physical remnant of a person’s time on earth, yet Lucy was deprived of this remembrance. Under Mr. Updike’s guidance, we discussed many different designs that might symbolize and give honor to Lucy. In the words of Julia Sullivan ’19, “We want her life to be thought about, talked about, and celebrated because she is just one of many female slaves of early New England who has not been remembered.”

Mr.Updike showed us images of his past work and explained the wide range of detail that can be put into a headstone. Many of the stones that Mr. Updike carved are for people he doesn’t know, but he also carves gravestones for family members and friends. In one case, he carved a headstone for a twelve year-old girl which featured her own artwork. He even makes a gravestone for himself every year, “just in case.”

When explaining things that we could incorporate into the design of Lucy’s stone, Mr. Updike  pointed out that the dash in between someone’s birthdate and death date sums up a human life in the span of a hyphen. As we sketched our ideas out on the whiteboard, we decided we might include something more meaningful than a simple hyphen between Lucy’s birth and death dates. We recently viewed artifacts from a 1943 excavation of Lucy’s home and are hoping to incorporate details from Lucy’s dishes and household implements into her headstone. (More on that in an upcoming blog post!)  

Mr.Updike also brought cuts of slate for us practice on! We each carved into our slate with metal tipped pencils, a mallet, and a chisel. Mr. Updike showed us how to scrape the surface, engrave and how to make deep marks in the slate. Headstone carving is a true form of art. Mikayla Johnson ‘20 said, “I had an amazing time doing this activity, it gave me a better understanding of the time and precision he puts into his work.” According to Autumn Armano ‘20, “ Mr. Updike must have a strong spirit and mindset to be able to put work into some of the sad stories he comes across.” Inspired by Mr. Updike’s visit, we are now in the process of settling on a design for Lucy’s headstone. It is thrilling to include Mr. Updike as a partner on this journey! Can we include you, too? To date, we have raised over $2000 toward the cost of Lucy’s stone. But we need your help to reach our goal of $3,000! Please consider helping us by tapping on the link below. Thank you!

Donate to the Lucy Foster Gravestone Project