Sticks and Stones

Three Centuries of North Carolina Gravemarkers

By M. Ruth Little

Photography by Tim Buchman

Sticks and Stones

352 pp., 8 x 10.875, 236 duotones, 4 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2135-7
    Published: June 2014

Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts

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Awards & distinctions

2001 Harriet Merifield Forbes Award, Association of Gravestone Studies

An old graveyard, writes Ruth Little, is a cultural encyclopedia--an invaluable source of insight and information about the families, traditions, and cultural connections that shape a community. But although graveyards and gravemarkers have long been recognized as vital elements of the material culture of New England, they have not received the same attention in the South. Sticks and Stones is the first book to consider the full spectrum of gravemarkers, both plain and fancy, in a southeastern state.

From gravehouses to cedar boards to seashell mounds to tomb-tables to pierced soapstones to homemade concrete headstones, an incredibly rich collection of gravemarker types populates North Carolina's graveyards. Exploring the cultural, economic, and material differences that gave rise to such variation, Little traces three major parallel developments: a tradition of headstones crafted of native materials by country artisans; a series of marble monuments created by metropolitan stonecutters; and a largely twentieth-century legacy of wood and concrete markers made within the African American community.

With more than 230 illustrations, including 120 stunning photographs by Tim Buchman, Sticks and Stones offers an illuminating look at an important facet of North Carolina's cultural heritage.

About the Author

During twenty-five years documenting architectural history for the State Historic Preservation Office and as a private consultant, M. Ruth Little, an art historian, has worked to record, understand, and preserve the material culture of North Carolina.
For more information about M. Ruth Little, visit the Author Page.


"Cultural historians, material culture scholars, historians of the American South, and North Carolinians of all persuasions will find this work a fascinating window into the history and cultural traditions of an understudied state. . . . The exciting and unfamiliar stories to be found in Sticks and Stones are the rich multicultural traditions, both black and white, exemplified by locally made gravemarkers. Little’s work and Buchman’s photographs highlight the cultural diversity of North Carolina that makes identifying a dominant culture or master narrative for the state so difficult. By focusing on a material artifact, Little offers a method to explore--even celebrate--that diversity yet provide a coherent a narrative of change, from place to place and through time."--Journal of Southern History

"As Americans become more conscious of preserving the past and as scholars become more concerned with learning how ordinary people lived, books like Sticks and Stones are treasures that should be in every library."--Vernacular Architecture Newsletter

"Handsomely produced. . . . The volume itself is illustrated with beautiful black-and-white photographs. This excellent study is highly recommended for decorative arts, folklore, American studies, and history collections."--Choice

"Well-researched and informative. . . . You will rarely come across such a work of love, and it is, at the same time, very valuable to the understanding of traditional culture."--Terry G. Jordan, author of Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy

"With a discerning heart and eye, combined with years of careful fieldwork and research, Ruth Little illuminates the history as well as the artistry of gravemarkers in North Carolina. She weaves together the stories of faith and culture, stone types and symbolism, carving techniques and transportation routes, and, especially, the identities of urban and rural artisans who created markers of life as well as death. Tim Buchman's quietly powerful photographs capture the diverse beauty of these markers--the weathered texture of cypress headboards in sandy coastal burying grounds, concrete memorials aglitter with shells, stern carvings on imported New England slates, weeping willows and broken columns in pale marble, and the paradoxical vitality of Piedmont soapstone markers pierced with whirling pinwheels of eternity."--Catherine W. Bishir, author of North Carolina Architecture