Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends A Landscape of Remembrance and Reflection | Page 19

sweet auburn | 2020 volume i of Whitman. John Jay Chapman wrote that the Brimmer household “was greatly warmed and caused to glow by [their] presence.” When Gemma died on May 26, 1890, Whitman wrote, “She fought so long, my little Gemma, and this morning she went forth in the sunrise.” For Gemma’s memorial (Lot 2424 Jasmine Path, pictured center), Whitman designed something like a stained glass window in marble: a seven-foot, finely proportioned slab depicting the Lamb of God below a cross fleury, and a border in Italian that translates “You are far from steep pathways, you are far from art; Now you see the sun shining before you” (Dante). Nearby is a small stone, also designed by Whitman and unfortunately greatly eroded, that marks the grave of Gemma’s little niece Minna, named for Gemma’s older sister. Her parents were Herbert Timmins, Gemma and Minna’s brother, and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Prescott. Little Minna lived barely six months; her stone reads, “Of such are the kingdom of heaven.” The lettering and Roman numerals of the dates are divided by a line of intertwined flowers, and the last line is bracketed by more flowers. After the death of Whitman’s friend Josephine Augusta (Peabody) Prescott—mother of Catherine Elizabeth Prescott (little Minna’s mother) and of Edith Prescott, who married Roger Wolcott (Governor of Massachusetts, 1896–1899)—Whitman designed a number of gravestones for the Prescott Lot. They are all made of “Iowa marble,” which unfortunately has degraded over time. One of the finest examples of Whitman’s funerary monuments, and one of the most personal, can be found in Lot 4543 Oriole Path. In December 1889, the Evans & Tombs Company delivered three “tablets” marking the graves of two of Whitman’s siblings, who died in childhood, and her father’s youngest sister, Sarah Adams Wyman, who died in 1841 at the age of sixteen. These three had been reinterred in 1880 alongside Whitman’s father, William White Wyman, who died two years earlier. The children’s stones are dark and rough, and bear no decoration beyond their names and dates, but the young aunt’s marker, created out of a soft, rose-colored stone, is decorated with a central cross flanked by massed leaves, above beautifully calligraphic lettering, including a line from Proverbs: “They that seek me early shall find me.” The attention given to the design and choice of stone suggest that this memorial had great personal significance, and supports the notion that Mrs. Whitman, who was born the year after her aunt’s death, may have been named for her. A mystery is raised here. Whitman’s parents—William Wyman and Sarah Amanda Treat Wyman—were interred in this lot in 1878 and 1885, but their daughter never created or commissioned monuments for them. Nor did she choose to be buried with them, although the lot plan shows ample space for her and other family members. We will probably never know why. Sarah Whitman’s own gravestone, and those of her husband and brother, bear none of the artistry and little of the distinctive lettering that define so much of her work (Lot 6084 Indian Ridge Path). Her own marker bears no name, only a cross and the words “Sursum corda” (Lift up your hearts). The graves are tucked into a corner along the Indian Ridge Path, far from her family but just across the path from her close friend Martin Brimmer. In October of 1889 Brimmer delivered an address upon the opening of the Farnsworth Art School at Wellesley College, which was published by Houghton, Mifflin with paper covers and an initial letter designed by Mrs. Whitman. He concluded his address with these words: “[if] I were to sum up in a word the most fruitful lesson of the past, it would be, Sursum corda! Hold high your hearts. Keep high your aims. Give of your best to the art you cherish, remembering its highest purposes, to reveal the secrets of nature and the aspirations of man, to interpret God’s work to the world.” Sarah Wyman Whitman, who gave of her best to the art she cherished, directed that these words be inscribed on her grave. She felt nothing else was necessary. To see more images visit: https://mountauburn.org/mountauburn-monuments-designed-by-sarah-wyman-whitman/ 17