I’ve been designing some new lettering projects, for myself to carve, but also with the idea of offering some lettering patterns for sale. As I sat drawing, my mind went back to a trip to Cleveland last month and the protective spirit I encountered.
My mom and I spent part of the day at the Cleveland Museum of Art. When we walked into the Ancient Near East room, we were met by a larger-than-life Assyrian spirit, impressive in his own right, beautifully carved and over seven feet tall.
A closer look revealed a pattern of cuneiform script carved right across the hand, body, and feathered wings. A translation of the message brings to light the typical report of a king’s conquests, power, and palatial details. That last bit is interesting if only for the types of wood used in the construction of the palace. A complete translation of the inscription, background information about the piece, and an image that can be explored in detail are all at The CMA website, here.
In addition to the way that the carver inscribed the text right over the details of the background carving, I was fascinated by the subtle arcs making up the walls of each symbol and the way the walls of neighboring shapes are linked to form continuous lines and wonderful curves. This is evident in my photos, but can be seen especially well by zooming in at the link above.
We may think of cuneiform as simply different combinations of wedge shapes, but it seems to me that this carver delighted in the possibilities and the carving of them. I understand relatively little about that carver’s world or language, but when it comes to beauty and the joy of creating, of watching a shape emerge at the cutting edge, what’s three thousand years? But some things do change; I suppose he’d be surprised to learn that his carving is on a wall in Cleveland.
Driving eastward home through rural Ohio that evening, I pulled off the road to walk through a couple small cemeteries. There are interesting things to see even among the sandblasted letters, but I mainly look for older, hand carved stones. I discovered the work of a letter carver from only two centuries ago, which are about the oldest gravestones you’ll tend to find in this part of the country.
The style and carving designs led me to believe that many of these stones in two cemeteries in close proximity were carved by the same person. For example, notice the zig-zag element at the side borders of the stones above and below. This was a fine-grained local sandstone of some sort that has held up pretty well.
I won’t bother pointing out all of the elements I noticed, but I’ll just share some photos of the stones. The shadows weren’t falling right to get good shots. Next time I can visit, I’ll try to remember to take some big paper and make some rubbings. These stones scratch the surface of stories that go much deeper than the carving.
One stone had the initials “P.W.” carved at the bottom. Possibly the carver. More to explore another time. Now it’s back to the drawing board.