Art and Architecture

Lives Memorialized in Timeless Art

Cemetery Iconography

In 1833 Alexander Walsh, a horticulturalist and native of Lansingburgh, spoke to the New York Horticultural Society about the benefits of a rural cemetery. He is quoted as saying” Nature conveyed God’s gifts and messages and could soothe mourners, inspire the disheartened, and teach proper conduct to the youth. The new, rural cemetery would have plantings to cheer the eye, trees to attract the soothing songs of birds, and hills, valleys, ponds or streams to provide picturesque views. This new kind of burial ground provided for the emotional and spiritual needs of the living, as well as the respectful burial of the dead.” 

Cemetery iconography completes the picture that Alexander Walsh was conveying in 1833. The use of trees, birds, animals, and flowers carved into stone assured the mourner that their dearly departed were united with God through the blessings of nature that God had bestowed upon us. 

Some iconography is distinctive to the deceased person. For instance, the lamb or a small cherub was often used for a child’s headstone; a broken tree limb symbolized a life cut short. Laurel wreaths, anchors, hearts and urns all convey the message of love, respect and honor for the departed. 


Before the days of installation art and sculpture gardens, rural cemeteries such as Oakwood became virtual outdoor museums, displaying the works of well-known contemporary sculptors as memorials to the deceased. 

Oakwood is home to thousands of individual statues and sculptures. One of the most noteworthy is a bronze, life-size sculpture of Julia Taloe Paine. It is the final work of William Rinehart, considered to be the last important American sculptor to work in the classical style. 

Celtic Crosses

Oakwood has some spectacular examples of the art of the Celtic Cross, which is said to be a pillar linking heaven and earth. Exquisite floral carvings, symbolizing innocence and purity, adorn the cross of Cora Elizabeth Prince, a descendent of the Warren family, who died at age 18. Take our Celtic Cross Tour to learn more about the history and symbolism of these ancient- style memorial stones.

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