German-Russian Cemetery Crosses
German-Russian wrought-iron cemetery crosses. Redrawn with permission, courtesy of many German-Russian blacksmiths and Dr. Timothy J. Kloberdanz
When I began my research for an exhibit addressing my Volga German heritage, I was naturally drawn to the images of wrought-iron cemetery crosses. The practice of making wrought-iron cemetery crosses was brought to the Americas by German-Russian blacksmiths, who had learned their skills in the Volga and Black Sea regions of Russia. Use of the crosses in the United States and Canada was popular with the German-Russians, mostly Catholic and some Protestants, between the 1870s and the 1930s, after which their popularity declined as did the number of blacksmiths who created them.
The design of the cross reflected both the smith that forged them and the person for whom it was made. Designs sometimes included sunflowers, sunbursts, hearts, angels and stars. Wheat stalks were sometimes added to a farmer’s cross, or a favorite flower to another’s.
I found the wrought-iron cemetery crosses were akin to mandala images used previously in my watercolors. I found the imagery refreshing, sometimes almost playful, affirming both life on Earth and the afterlife.
My adaptations of the wrought-iron crosses were painted and cut digitally, glued, and sometimes traditional media were added. Below are a sample of my digital paintings.
Timothy J. Koberdanz. 1988. German-Russian Wrought-Iron Cross Sites in Central North Dakota. National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.
Vrooman, N. C. and Marvin, P. A. Editors. 1982. Iron Spirits. North Dakota Council on the Arts, Fargo, ND.