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The Handmade Grave Marker in the Southwest

“Descanse en Paz,” a special exhibit of images by Dick George, will be on display at the San Bernardino County Museum from December 15 through January 21. The exhibit is free with museum admission.

In the American Southwest where the Hispanic influence is strong, rural mourners often make grave markers for their dead friends and family. They choose to do so even though factory-made markers are readily available and affordable to most. With ties to the community, land, and a culture of self-sufficiency that may reach back centuries, many feel it a personal responsibility that should not be relinquished to others. They also believe that it is an important part in sustaining relationships with those who have died. Accordingly they invest time and effort, care, imagination, and the labor of their own hands. Then they maintain the markers and grave sites for years, sometimes even decades.

As it explores the folk art of the handmade grave marker, Descanse En Paz invites viewers to witness a disappearing tradition, to see what remains of it, to see what it implies — and perhaps to see who we were, how we have changed, and how we got where we are.

“In aspiring simply to celebrate and continue their relationships with loved ones, these nameless artisan/mourners achieve something well beyond their probable intentions: folk art,” said George in his artist statement. “This is the real thing: an art of the home and hand and heart, of soulful imperfection. This is art born of the need somehow to get through the upwelling feelings of the day, the week, the years. This is an art of personal communication rather than the art of display. This may be the grief of poverty; it is certainly not the poverty of grief.”

Museum Curator of History Michele Nielsen will present a gallery talk at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 20 that will include an informal tour of the exhibit and a discussion of cemetery art in the southwest, including that found in the museum’s historic Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery in Colton. 

The San Bernardino County Museum is at the California Street exit from Interstate 10 in Redlands. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays and holiday Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 (adult), $5 (student or senior), and $4 (child aged 5 to 12). Children under five and Museum Association members are admitted free. Parking is free. For more information, visit

The museum is accessible to persons with disabilities. If assistive listening devices or other auxiliary aids are needed in order to participate in museum exhibits or programs, requests should be made through Museum Visitor Services at least three business days prior to your visit. Visitor Services’ telephone number is (909) 307-2669 ext. 229 or TDD (909) 792-1462.



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