Friday, May 18, 2012

Faces From the Past - Ceramic Memorial Plaques

 

They go by many names – those faces from the past.  Ceramic pictures, photo porcelain plaques, memorial portraitures, even postmortem portraits.  They first began appearing on gravestones in the U.S. back at the turn of the century.  What began as a oval porcelain tablet with an image transferred on to it has changed and been refined over the years into modern day ceramic memorial plaques that are weather and fade resistant.


In 1854 two French photographers, Bulot and Cattin, patented a process to adhere a photographic image to porcelain or enamel by firing it in a kiln. The original ceramic pictures were done in black and white and then mounted on gravestones.  The process caught on throughout Eastern and Southern Europe, and Latin America.


For the first time, ceramic pictures made it easy and affordable for the graves of the working class to be personalized with a likeness of the deceased. Before this only the wealthy had sculptures, busts, and carvings done in their likenesses on their tombs.


In 1893, the J.A. Dedouch Company began in Oak Park, Illinois.  They quickly became one of the most popular companies that manufactured ceramic tombstone pictures.  In 2004, Dedouch was sold to the Canadian company, PSM.  After one hundred eleven years in business, J.A. Dedouch was also the oldest company to have crafted these memorial portraits.


By the turn of the century this type of personalization was becoming very popular and available around the world.  The 1929 Montgomery Wards & Company Monuments catalog sold ceramic pictures for gravestones and described them as eternal portraits that “endow the resting place of the dead with a living personality.”  Priced from $6.50 to $13.50, they were available in an oval, round, or rectangular shape and came in three different sizes.


Today, ceramic pictures come in a variety of sizes and shapes including the traditional oval, rectangular, and round shapes along with
heart shaped images.  The pictures are now done mainly in color, although black and white, and sepia tones are still available.  The pictures are digitized, placed on porcelain shapes, and then baked at 1600 degrees so the image will not fade.  A 3 x 4 oval will run around $300.  Ceramic pictures can also be mounted on mausoleum doors, benches, cremation urns, and columbariums.


Ceramic memorial pictures give us the opportunity to glimpse back into history. As the old adage goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” and these ceramic memorial plaques allow us one more chance to look into the eyes of this long-ago past and identify personally with someone who lived in it.

~ Joy