BY AMIE PLUMMER
Article Date: Monday, July 14, 2008
The workshop covered restoration techniques explained by professional gravestone conservator and monument mason Jonathan Appell of Connecticut.
He spent the afternoon with attendees at the North Cemetery going over proper gravestone cleaning techniques, teaching them how to reset a leaning stone before it snaps and how to handle broken gravestones.
Jen Marcelais, Portsmouth Cemetery Committee member, said this is the first workshop of its kind the committee has put together.
"I think it was a good idea to get a professional out here to let us know the dos and don'ts of keeping up with the grave sites," she said. "We have people here who are part of cemetery committees in different towns and those who are just interested in this topic."
Appell, who owns New England Cemetery Services, has worked at many sites across the region.
One of the most common questions he gets asked about gravestone restoration is what to do when a stone has begun to deteriorate.
"Many people think carvings on a grave stone can simply be redone once they have worn away or deteriorated," he said. "In fact, that is probably the worst thing you can do. It won't last, and will just open up the pores and make things worse."
He said many gravestones are sealed after they have been carved, and recarving an engraved message will break the seal and allow the elements to wear away the stone faster than it normally would.
During the workshop, he demonstrated how to reset a stone after it has broken off at the base and how to stand up stones that have been leaning and are in danger of breaking.
"It is really important to have the right kind of tools for these restorations and know what type of stone you are working with," he said. "Besides, some of these things are really heavy."
Another common question is about how to clean a gravestone, Appell said.
"Sometimes cleaning the stone may not be an option without making it look worse," he said. "You need to be extremely gentle, or you might remove some of the stone in the cleaning process."
He suggests examining the stone before doing anything to see if it's cleanable. If the stone shows signs of flaking, chipping, scaling or other forms of deterioration, cleaning the stone will do more harm than good.
Appell's website is www.gravestonerestoration.info. For more information on the Portsmouth Cemetery Committee, call 436-5096 or visit their website at www.portsmoutholdgraves.org.
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