This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, October 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.
In Small Things Remembered: The William Peters Reeves Grave Memorial at Kenyon College by Dennis Montagna
Professor William Peters Reeves chaired the English Department at Kenyon College for the first third of the 20th Century. He died in 1945 and was buried in the small campus cemetery in Gambier, Ohio.
The unassuming memorial stone placed at the head of his grave in 1950 cost only $276, about the price of a television set. But its creation was the subject of more than two years of correspondence between Reeves’ widow and the president of Presbrey-Leland Inc., one of the nation’s leading designers of cemetery monuments and mausoleums.
Despite the fact that the stakes were incredibly low here, the project’s history provides a window into the world of mid-twentieth century monument making, a world in which clients, designers, artisans and stone suppliers worked to bring to fruition even the simplest of commemorative works.
Dennis Montagna directs the National Park Service’s Monument Research & Preservation Program. Based at the Park Service’s Philadelphia Region Office, the program provides comprehensive assistance in the interpretation and care of historic cemeteries, outdoor sculpture and public monuments to managers of National Park sites and to other constituents nationwide.
Past projects include preservation planning and conservation for sculpture collections for the Gettysburg and Vicksburg Battlefields, the City of Richmond, Virginia, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and the City of Monroe, Michigan. He has assisted historic cemeteries with a wide range of conservation projects. These include Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. He also advised Arlington National Cemetery on their recent conservation of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Presently, he is helping the city of Wilson, North Carolina plan the relocation, conservation and long-term maintenance of thirty of sculptor Vollis Simpson’s Whirligigs.
His work has also included the creation of new memorials. He chaired the federal review panel that selected a design for the African Burial Ground Memorial at the burial site of thousands of enslaved and free Africans in lower Manhattan. With sculptor Jim Barnhill, and on a much smaller scale, he designed a memorial for Booker T. Washington’s birthplace near Roanoke, Virginia.
Dennis holds a BA degree in Studio Art from Florida State University, a Master’s degree in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Ph.D from the University of Delaware. He participated in the 1989 ICCROM Architectural Conservation Course in Rome, Italy with grants from the Kress and Getty Foundations, and in subsequent years has returned to Rome as a course instructor. He is a former chair of the American Institute for Conservation’s Architecture Specialty Group and served as an advisor to the national Save Outdoor Sculpture! Project.