Incorporating death masks taken from the deceased into his memorials has led Joss Nankoo, of Stone Art Memorials, into some strange situations. For one memorial he made recently that was to include a person’s head and shoulders, he had to visit a sex shop and buy an S&M rubber shirt because the algenate he was using to take the cast would have stuck to a cloth shirt. Sometimes he has bronzes of the death masks cast to include in the memorials.
Another memorial he is currently working on in his workshop in Newbury, Berkshire, commemorates Simeon Solomon, who was part of the pre-Raphaelite movement but fell out of favour following a conviction for what were then illegal homosexual activities.
From the late 1860s, many of Solomon’s images were connected to his prose poem ‘A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep’, published in 1871. It is one of those images, of three sleeping men, that Joss has carved on to the 1.8m long piece of Welsh slate being used for the memorial he has been commissioned to produce to mark the grave of Simeon in Willesden cemetery.
Joss is registered with BRAMM and will fix the memorial himself. And he is contemptuous of those who consider themselves artist craftspeople, who do not fix and, as far as he is concerned, work too slowly and charge too much.
Lately Joss has been asked by the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) to talk to its members about his approach to memorials. With funeral directors going directly to China to buy finished memorials, including inscriptions, he believes the way forward for skilled stoneworkers in Britain is to return to indigenous materials and hand masonry skills, because they are not so easily replicated. He also believes masons need to think outside the box and open their minds to unusual propositions… such as the incorporation of death masks into the stones.
He also says a lot of the people who approach him for something by which to remember a loved one are not looking for a memorial to put into a cemetery, but a sculpture to go in their garden – like a 1.5m tall Welsh slate column he is currently producing that will be topped with an Atlas sundial.