Quaker Gravestones

Quaker gravestones, traditionally, are small and plain. Only Friends names and dates of birth and death are included. The markers reflect the Quaker testimony of equality. Friends feel that the difference between people is not outward – titles, wealth, etc. -but rather inward -the spirit. Additionally, the markers represent the testimony of simplicity. Friends feel that they must avoid what is unimportant in life –again, titles, wealth, etc. -and focus on what is important -again, the spirit. They feel both testimonies are true not only in life but also in death.

In 1661, in London, Bunhill Fields –the name a corruption of “bone hill” -was purchased, as perhaps the first Quaker cemetery. The early burials there were unmarked. When Meeting graveyards were established elsewhere in Britain and America, they followed this practice was followed. Some Friends raised concerns about unmarked graves, however, because they wanted to remember where their loved ones lay. By the late 1600’s small blank markers had appeared and then, after a time, markers with just initials were installed. They rested flat on the ground. Many kinds of stone were used, though slate was a dominant material. Uncut stones and boulders were also employed as well as wood, though the latter has usually not survived. In the 1700’s small gravestones with names and dates of death as well as sometimes dates of birth or age were used. The months were denoted by number, such as in “First Month” for “January”. They were upright. Limits on size and information on the markers were strictly enforced by Meetings. Epitaphs and ornamentation were not permitted. Variants existed: in the Camden (SC) cemetery, bricks outlining an oval were used, with no gravestones. Slaves, Indians and poor whites were also sometimes buried in Quaker graveyards. In the 1800’s Friends occasionally began to be interred in public cemeteries but plain markers were still utilized. In the 1900’s granite and marble became the common materials used for gravestones. In the 2000’s the markers are still usually small and plain. Some Friends are now cremated, and some are buried green.

The gravestone carvers are often unknown for the early period of Friends. Presumably local stone masons, who often made markers as a sideline, were used. In the later periods full-time carvers and then professional memorial companies were employed. Probably few of them were Friends.

I feel Quaker gravestones were a perfect manifestation of early Friends’ beliefs. And they still are.

I also have a great affection for Friends cemeteries, as I do for all graveyards. To me they are not a field of burials but rather a field of lives. When I have visited them, I imagine the stories of these people. A quote about this from Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice:

“The gravestones speak of the past, of those who also served the Meeting, whose lives are woven into ours, as ours will affect those still to come.”

Gary Sandman

Pictured above (top) are gravestones from the Flushing (NYYM) Friends Cemetery and (bottom) gravestones from the Sandy Spring (BYM) Friends Cemetery.

May 2019

Graham Lewinton

In January a Friend named Graham Lewinton posted an amazing painting of his on “Quaker Artists History”, my Facebook page.  It was called “Advices and Queries”.

Graham Lewinton (b. 1954) is an English painter.  He is largely self-taught.  Many of his works are inspired by a dislike of bullying and oppression, and these focus on pollution, Israel and Gaza, Arab Spring and the Dale Farm evictions.  Some works feature portraits and landscapes.  Among other places, Graham has had exhibitions at X-Church, Tate Modern, the Bird’s Nest Gallery, Kunstkreis Kloster Brunshausen, the Box, the Usher Gallery and Doddington Hall.  He is a member of the Lincolnshire Artists Society.

Graham began attending Lincoln (BrYM) Meeting at the suggestion of a friend.  After his mother’s death, he found he had become a very angry man.  His friend felt that Quakers might be helpful with his anger.  At his first Meeting for Worship Graham sat silently and looked at the parquet floor, a floor like the one in his parent’s home.  Painful memories of his past came flooding back.  On the way home he pulled his car over to the side of the road and began to cry.  Afterward, he says, “I felt clean”.  He has been going to Friends Meeting ever since and became a member in 2013.  He sees Quakerism as an on-going practice that has allowed him to heal.

“Advices and Queries”, an acrylic painting, depicts Lincoln Friends as pictured from above.  Members and attenders sit on chairs while beneath them, on the parquet floor, are inscribed Quaker advices and queries as well as George Fox quotes.  Graham jokes that he painted it “hanging from a chandelier”.  Actually, he created it by leaning over a balustrade in the Meetinghouse and snapping a photograph of each Friend, one at a time, as a guide.  Problems arose with perspective and structure, however, and the painting took him nearly three years to complete.  The original hangs in the Lincoln Meetinghouse.  (“Quaker Advices and Queries, Numbers 42 and 44”, his paintings of those words, rest on either side).  The Meeting sells prints and postcards of it as a fundraiser.

I loved Graham Lewinton’s “Advices and Queries”.  It perfectly captures the feeling of a Friends Meeting for Worship.  The color is vibrant.  The detail is exquisite.  (At first I thought it was a photograph).  I was especially charmed by the boy in the bottom center, glancing to his left, and the nearby dog, also gazing left.  (It is pictured below).

For more works by this remarkable artist, go to www.grahamlewinton.com.

April 2019

graham lewinton pic 9-advices & queries


Quaker Oaths

Quaker Oaths (2016) is a comedy film about a Quaker divorce. In the movie Emily and Joe get married in a quaker oaths picFriends wedding. At the end of the ceremony, as is the practice of Quakers, everyone signs the wedding certificate. Six years later, after a long separation, the couple decide to divorce. Emily’s mother, upset, insists that they stay together. Finally, she tells them she will accept the divorce if they persuade everyone who signed their wedding certificate to cross off and initial their names. So what happens next? Road trip! (See the film to find out the rest of the story). Fede Rangel and Alex Dobrenko star as Emily and Joe. Louisiana Kreutz is the writer and director. The film won awards at the Breckenridge, Woods Hole, Deep in the Heart of Texas and Phoenix Film Festivals.

Quaker Oaths contains little about Friends. A Quaker wedding opens the film. The plot device of the wedding certificate is used. Friends, of course, do not get a divorce in the manner described above. The actual process is that the Ministry and Counsel Committee supports couples in conflict with each other. If no resolution to their conflicts can be found, the committee supports them through their divorce. Meeting for Business unites on a minute accepting the divorce. Louisiana Kreutz, the writer and director, is not a Friend. She attended a Quaker wedding and thought it was funny that everyone signed the wedding certificate. She joked that everyone would have to cross off and initial their names on the wedding certificate if the couple wanted a divorce. (The title, by the way, is a pun on Quaker Oats. Kreutz probably did not know Friends do not swear oaths).

Quaker Oaths is a delightful and quirky film. I enjoyed it greatly. Rangel and Dobrenko are charming. Kreutz’s writing and direction is sharply observed but with real warmth. An independent film, the production values are home-made. I recommend this film highly.

Quaker Oaths did make me wonder what a movie about contemporary Friends would be like. As I noted above, there is next to nothing about Quakers in this film. And I know of no other movie about present-day Friends. Anyone out there able and willing to do an updated Friendly Persuasion?

A link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxyqFdwd07I

Gary Sandman

March 2019

Genesis Chapman

Genesis Chapman (b. 1970) is a painter of the natural world. His work focuses on Bent Mountain, Virginia, where he was raised, and his goal is to genesis4highlight the changes to that area. He depicts its rocks, air, flora and fauna and, an important element for him, water. (Bottom Creek is a particular interest). The medium he uses is India ink on Yupo paper. Because of his love for Bent Mountain, a recent concern for Genesis has been the genesis5Mountain Valley Pipeline. His work regarding the MVP and other pipelines across the United States focuses on fire and smoke and employs bright inks. He has also constructed intricate wooden puzzles of animals, real and mythical. Genesis has had exhibitions at galleries in Kansas, Virginia and New York. In 2018 he was the first winner of the Taubman Museum’s “Homeward Bound” triennial.

Genesis has attended Roanoke (BYM) Meeting as well as Floyd and Richmond Meetings. He says he identifies as being “basically Quaker”. Friendly influence is reflected with the way he sits in quiet meditation to create his work. It is present in the simplicity of his drawings. It is also mirrored by his tendency to use shades of grey, traditionally a Quaker color, in his art. Finally, he finds deep spiritual comfort and something eternally present in nature.

I loved Genesis’s work. His water drawings were exquisite, especially “Cold Tub, Kettle Holes, Bent Mountain, Va”. As an artist, I adore color, so it was a revelation for me to study these black-and-white drawings. This is a greatly-talented painter.

Below is “Cold Tub, Kettle Holes, Bent Mountain, Va” as well as a photo of the artist.

Gary Sandman

February 2019

Down to the Sea in Ships

Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) is a silent film about 19th century New Bedford whalers.  The plot centers arounddowntotheseainships Allan Dexter and Patience Morgan, who have fallen in love but are prevented from marrying by William Morgan, Patience’s father.  William Morgan objects because Allan is neither a whaler or a Quaker.  A subplot focuses on Siggs, a villain who also wants to marry Patience.  Much of the movie concerns Allan proving himself as a whaler.  Down to the Sea in Ships stars Marguerite Courtot, Raymond McKee, William Walcott, Jack Baston, James Turfler and Clara Bow.  Elmer Clifton directed, and John L.E. Pell wrote the screenplay.  A.G. Penrod and Paul H. Allen were the cameramen.

Quaker references abound in the film.  Patience and William Morgan are Friends.  Scenes were filmed at the Apponegansett Meetinghouse in Dartmouth.  The Meeting for Worship depicted there is accurate.  Women sit on the left; men sit on the right.  After a male Friend rises to give ministry, he removes his hat as do all other male Friends.  (Removing the hat while offering a message was a long Quaker tradition).  A visual joke should be noted, too.  During Meeting a Friend sits twiddling his thumbs, sign language for “Quaker”.  Title cards feature the plain language when it is used by Friends.

Down to the Sea in Ships is a well-made movie, if a bit melodramatic.  The whaling scenes are especially exciting.  (Clifton, the director, was an assistant to D.W. Griffith, and the Griffith influence is evident).  It was also Clara Bow’s second movie, and, as Dot, Patience’s younger sister, she lights up the screen.  The subplot is racist.  The villain is Chinese but is passing as Caucasian, and mention is made of his background repeatedly.  A film worth seeing.

A link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWs3zGueWDs&t=2443s

Gary Sandman

January 2019

Courageous Mr. Penn

Courageous Mr. Penn (1942) is a biographical film courageousmrpennabout William Penn. It portrays him as a vibrant, energetic leader. Scenes from Penn’s life depicted include his conversion to Quakerism; his trial for worshiping at a Friends Meeting; and his establishment of Pennsylvania. George Fox also makes a brief appearance. The movie stars Clifford Evans as Penn; Deborah Kerr as Gulielma Penn; James Harcourt as George Fox; and Dennis Arundell as King Charles II. A British National Films production, the movie was directed by Lance Comfort and produced by Richard Vernon. William Alwyn composed the soundtrack. Anatole de Grunwald wrote the screenplay, based on C.E. Vuillard’s novel William Penn.
Filmed during World War Two, Courageous Mr. Penn was made as propaganda to publicize British and American shared values. Its goal was to encourage American entry into the war. Penn’s commitment to freedom and democracy was therefore emphasized. His conversion to a non-state church was used to reflect his support of freedom of religion; his trial (and the innocent verdict) was used to confirm his belief in the right of a jury to make their own decision; and his establishment of the Pennsylvania legislature was used to show his commitment to democracy.
Courageous Mr. Penn is a mediocre film. Because the screenplay was hastily written, some of it is not accurate and its tone is melodramatic. Production values are minimal. The actors are very good, however. Clifford Evans makes a fine Penn. (Evans was a conscientious objector during the war). Deborah Kerr is radiant as Guli, his wife. And it is remarkable to see a movie about a pacifist leader in the middle of World War Two.
Gary Sandman
December 2018

Patsy & Tony Martin

Patsy and Tony Martin lead groups in chanting.  In 2000, at the Friends General Conference Gathering, they attended a chanting workshop facilitated by Beverly Shepard.  It was a transcendent experience for them.  When they returned home, they began organizing local groups.  Currently they host chanting at the Bower Center in Bedford and the Friends Meetinghouse in Roanoke.  Patsy is responsible for scheduling the groups and contacting people about the dates.  At the groups themselves Tony introduces the chants.  He uses chants from participants and well-known chanters as well as ones he has created himself.  The chanting begins, is interspersed and ends with silence.  The participants create the chant as they chant: listening to each other, following each other, leaving space between each other.  Occasionally rhythm instruments accompany the chanting.  Although there is certainly creativity involved, Patsy and Tony are reluctant to call the chanting they facilitate an art form.  To them, it is ministry and a form of worship.

Patsy and Tony are also active in community theater.  They actually met in a college play.  Patsy taught drama at Liberty High School, and Tony occasionally directed plays as the gifted resource teacher at Bedford Elementary School.  Nowadays they appear with the Little Town Players in Bedford.  Patsy takes photographs and does paper crafts, as well.  She loves to write a friend’s name in color over and over while holding them in the Light.

Patsy and Tony are long-time members of Roanoke (BYM) Meeting.  When they were serving in the Peace Corps in Malaysia, they were introduced to Quakerism. They returned to the United States and were active in Meetings in Salina, Kansas and Charlotte, North Carolina.  They became members of Roanoke Meeting after moving to Virginia in 1985.  Patsy worked for Friends General Conference for 13 years, serving in the role of Junior Gathering Coordinator.  Recently they began participating in the School of the Spirit’s “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer” program.

I know Patsy and Tony as great people and experienced Friends.  So it was a delight to attend one of their groups at the Meetinghouse and take part in their chanting.  I encourage you to join them sometime!

Gary Sandman


Charlie Brooker

Charlie Brooker (b. 1971) is an English satirist, critic, presenter and charliebrookerpicproducer.  He is known for his sharp and cynical observations.  His main subject is the effect of media (television, radio, print, video games, social media) on people.  Writing primarily for television, his shows have included TVGoHome; Dead Set; Screenwipe and, most notably, Black Mirror.  Brooker has also written for PC Zone and The Guardian.  His awards have included a BAFTA; a Royal Television Society Award; three British Comedy Awards; a British Press Award; and three Primetime Emmy Awards.

Brooker was raised a Friend at Wallingford (BrYM) Meeting.  His grandparents were Quaker missionaries.  His parents were actively involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  Brooker’s Quaker upbringing was very relaxed, however.  He says, “I wasn’t really aware they were a religious organization for quite some time….  No one tried to hammer the God nail into my forehead at an impressionable age.  In fact, the best thing about being a Quaker was the lack of God in my life. As a Quaker, I got to duck out of religious education lessons at my Church of England primary school. I sat outside the classroom with the offspring of other godless heathens, sketching comic strips….”  While he continues to call himself a Quaker, he has also identified as an atheist.

Brooker is a ferocious talent.  His Black Mirror, for example, is extraordinary.  A sort of darker Twilight Zone, it challenges people’s unquestioning acceptance of social media. “The Waldo Moment”, for example, eerily prophesizes the rise of President Trump.  Highly recommended.

Gary Sandman

October 2018

“Norman Morrison”

“Norman Morrison” is a poem about the Baltimore Quaker who burned himself to death at the Pentagon on November 2, 1965.  He did this in protest of the Vietnam War. Adrian Mitchell wrote the piece.  The poem comments on the consequences of Morrison’s act, rather than describing the act.  The piece’s tone nm newsletteris quiet and musing.  At the end the poem speaks about the fire changing Morrison’s pink skin to a Vietnamese’s gold skin.

Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008) was an English poet, novelist, playwright and journalist.  His subjects varied widely, though he often wrote about politics. He used everyday language and images and, above all, humor.  As well, he was influenced by his love of music, especially rock-and-roll.  He was the first reporter to print an interview with the Beatles and later edited and contributed the foreword to Blackbird Singing, Paul McCartney’s collection of lyrics and poetry.  Mitchell’s works included Out Loud; Ride the Nightmare; Tyger: A Celebration Based on the Life and Works of William Blake; Love Songs of World War Three: Collected Stage Lyrics; and Adrian Mitchell’s Greatest Hits – The Top Forty.  He also co-wrote US, a play about the Vietnamese and American burnings, like Morrison’s.  He was honored with the Eric Gregory Award, the PEN Translation Prize and the Tokyo Festival Television Film Award.  A prominent pacifist and leftist, he often recited his poetry at political demonstrations.  Kenneth Tynan dubbed him “the British Mayakovsky”.

Norman Morrison was wrong and misguided.  We struggle for life, not death.  But his act continues to haunt me.

“Norman Morrison”, the poem, is heart-felt and heart-breaking.  Below is a link to Adrian Mitchell reciting it, starting at 1:35:


Gary Sandman

September 2018

Photographs of Dolley Madison

A handful of photographs of Dolley Madison exist. They depict her alone; with dm-picher niece, Annie Payne Cutts; and in a group portrait with President James Polk and others.   They were taken by Matthew Brady, with the exception of the last, which was taken by an anonymous photographer. In the group portrait her face is blurred because she has moved. (They are daguerreotypes, requiring the subjects to remain still for a period). Circa 1845, they show her in her later years.  Some paintings of Madison also exist, one of them done by Gilbert Stuart. As well, she wrote classical poetry and epigrams and was noted for her colorful dresses and trademark turbans.

Dolley Madison (1768-1849) was part of the Founding Generation of the American Republic. The wife of James Madison, the third Vice-President and fourth President of the United States, she was greatly influential in early American politics. In Washington DC, a brand new town in those days, American politicians largely did not know each other and related to each other with distrust and, sometimes, with violence. Women’s public role in politics was limited. Despite both these circumstances, with adroitness, Madison endeavored to create an attitude of conciliation and inclusiveness. Her salons and dinner parties in Washington DC were gathering places for elected officials to talk face-to-face and without rancor. Her tireless networking and letter-writing also supported this. Additionally, her political advice to James Madison and her influence on patronage were vital. Finally, Madison created the role of the First Lady. From hospitality to charity to fashion to decorating the White House, she established many of the parameters of the position. She was, in fact, the first Presidential wife to be called the First Lady.  Greatly loved by Americans, who called her, with affection, “Queen Dolley”, she was the most famous American woman of her day.

Dolley Madison was born in Cedar Creek, a North Carolina Quaker community, and grew up in Virginia and Pennsylvania Quaker Meetings. She worshipped at Pine Street Meeting in Philadelphia, where her parents were prominent members. She always chafed at the Society’s narrowness in the 18th century, however. A charming and lively young woman, she enjoyed the good things in life. (A Quaker elder once admonished her about her behavior. Madison smiled sweetly and then, as the elder went on, fell asleep). She married John Payne in 1790, and they were known as gay Quakers. (In those days this referred to Friends who enjoyed luxuries, not to sexual identity). After Payne’s death, she married James Madison and was disowned by Friends for marrying a non-Quaker. (She recalled, years later, after visiting Philadelphia, “(I) really felt an ancient terror of them (Friends) reviving to a great degree. The Religious Society used to control me entirely and debar me from so many advantages and pleasures. (Now I’m) so entirely out of their clutches”. She continued, on occasion, though, to use both the plain language and dress. As well, that reconciliation and inclusiveness she fostered in politics may have had roots in Friends. Madison did not follow some Friends beliefs, however. Tragically, she owned slaves. Despite James Madison’s will, in her impoverished old age, she even sold them. She also supported the War of 1812 wholeheartedly. After the burning of the White House by British soldiers, she stated that she wanted to consign them to the bottomless pit. In 1845, late in life, she was baptized into the Episcopalian Church.

It is remarkable to see photographs of Dolley Madison. They are the only photos we have of a leader of the Founding Generation.

August 2018