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Selecting the Right Firm to Do Repairs

This page provides guidance on the ethics you should expect from a firm providing treatments -- or repairs -- to your cemetery monuments and fences.

First, the firm should subscribe to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. You can learn more about these by linking to AIC. The Standards of Practice provide guidelines for professional conduct, examination and scientific investigation, preventative conservation, and treatments. They ensure that the integrity of the original fabric is respected, that in so far as possible only reversible treatments are undertaken, and that the treatments are appropriate.

Chicora Foundation is a member of AIC and subscribes to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

Second, the firm should be aware of -- and willing to comply with -- the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. These standards, while often thought to be associated with structures, are actually developed for a wide range of projects, including landscapes and other various conservation treatments. They can be applied to a wide range of projects -- including cemetery repairs and treatments. These guidelines -- like the AIC Standards of Practice -- focus on ensuring that the proposed work is compatible with the original material, that the work is carefully documented, that the original fabric is preserved, and that all treatments are the gentlest possible. For more information visit the National Park Service's Standards for Preservation.

Chicora Foundation recognizes the fundamental importance of these standards and works to ensure that they are complied with on all projects.

Third, the firm should be aware of what is called The Venice Charter -- a foundation for world-wide conservation ethics. It outlines many of the important issues involved in the long-term preservation of monuments -- whether buildings or tombstones.

Chicora Foundation is a supporter of this document and encourages others in preservation to become aware of it critical recommendations.

Finally, ensure that those hired for their trade skills understand fundamental preservation practices. For example, does your mason understand the use of lime based mortars? Does he or she understand the damage that hard Portland cement mortars can do to soft, porous bricks? Does the mason exhibit good practices, such as carefully measuring and mixing mortars? Even a mason, if he or she is doing preservation quality work, should be familiar with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards.

Remember, just because someone has been doing something for 50 years doesn't mean they're been doing it correctly all that time.  The only way you can protect your cemetery is to hire a preservation consultant to develop specifications and oversee the work. Chicora is happy to work with you to make certain that the work done by the trades is professional and appropriate.


Let's look at one example and see how conservation ethics may affect our decision. A pedestal tomb has lost its vase. The client wants to replace this vase, "so the stone will look like the others in the cemetery." Not having a photograph or any fragments from the original, the client wants to "just make one that looks like the others in the cemetery." What's your response? Here's ours:

We do not encourage -- or participate in -- the replacement of historic fabrics when there is no documentary information on which to base the replacement and the replacement is entirely aesthetic. We explain that to recreate this vase would result in something that is no longer "real." It promotes a "Disney" version of history -- something that appears pretty, but which has no solid foundation. Such recreations can't be consistent with the intent of the original artisan or the family that had the monument erected. Instead, allow the monument to stand as it as, rich in the patina of age and reflecting some of the past's scars. Emphasize the beauty of what is present, rather than detracting from it through the addition of some made-up, modern item.

We also recognize, however, that there are degrees of replacement. Let's say that we aren't talking about a vase, but rather a side panel for a cradle grave. Without this panel the monument is compromised not only aesthetically, but also structurally. In addition, we have one side panel and know the material, its length, height, and thickness. We have information on how it was originally joined.

In this case, it might be appropriate to have a new side panel cut, especially if it is a simple, unadorned piece. This new piece could be signed and dated by the stonecutter, so its modern origin would be well documented. And its addition to the cradle grave would help ensure the stability and preservation of the entire monument.

While many ethical issues in cemetery preservation aren't this simple, we hope this gives you an idea of the issues that need to be considered and points out that often simple solutions to complex problems cause tremendous damage to what we are attempting to preserve and protect.


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