My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sponsored by the Friends of the Cabildo (an historic preservation volunteer organization), New Orleans Architecture, Vol. 3 is a continuation of their books detailing the past of this extraordinarily multicultural city. New Orleans Architecture #3 is a superbly comprehensive work, containing much to appeal to scholars, aficionados of cemetery imagery, and artists looking for evocative source material. Exceptionally designed, it manages to supply in-depth data while remaining accessible and inviting.
Chapters contributed by different writers are consistently excellent, covering subjects in a lively and fast-moving fashion. It is quite apparent the various authors were united and inspired by love and fascination for their subject.
Hundreds of crisply reproduced black-and-white photographs (with an 8-page “color album” section) chronicle “A Brief History of New Orleans Cemeteries,” “Influences in 19th-Century Funerary Architecture,” and even the amazing variety of “Cemetery Ironwork.” As an example of the thorough and well-organized nature of this book, the latter chapter has sections on crosses (44 different designs photographed and illustrated), gates and railings, spikes and terminals.
The mostly modest-sized photos are intended to illustrate the rich funerary architecture of the Crescent City rather than to serve as stand-alone “works of art,” yet the artistry of the creators of these monuments to the dearly departed — and the sensitivity and technical skill of the photographers — makes this book a treat for the eyes.
An essay by Bernard Lemann, “Thoughts on New Orleans and Preservation: A Cemetery Elegy” concludes the book. Arguing for minimal restoration that does not disrupt the atmosphere of a decaying old cemetery, he writes, “weeds atop a wall or parapet, the wild, aggressive roots, and the dank, gaping crypt with a glimpse of an antique cast iron casket are appropriate complements to the homely inscriptions that feed the ruminative mood of the cemetery stroller.” Lemann adds, “Such signs of oblivion are of course symbolic messages.”
As one compares the drearily utilitarian modern cemeteries to the rich and imaginative testaments to grief and reverence crafted in stone depicted here, it is difficult to avoid thinking that the “march of progress” proceeds backward as well as forward.
Copies are available on Amazon: New Orleans Architecture Vol III: The Cemeteries
This review was originally published in Morbid Curiosity #4.