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Peter Barker

One of the most enigmatic and intriguing of eastern Connecticut stone carvers is an individual identified as Peter Barker on the basis of probate records for payment of stones Monteville. One for Daniel Fitch (1755), "to cash paid Mr. Barker for making toom stones 1-13-4," and one for Samuel Lawrence (1759) "to Peter Barker for gravestones 1-2-6." The John Hide, Jr., estate (Norwich 1760) also paid Peter Barker "0-15-0" but gravestones are not specifically mentioned. Stones attributed to this carver are very crudely executed. The cherubim have simple round faces, truncated noses and small wings, usually arising from stalks at the side of the face. Frequently simple willow-leaf like vine borders are used. Sometimes six-rayed rosettes are lavishly used in the horizontal row and on the border panels. Such stones are certainly in the tradition of Obadiah Wheeler. Barker stones are so often thick slabs, but the carving is shallow and erosion is usually great so that it is exceedingly hard to read the inscriptions and interpret the designs. (Fortunately Anne Williams and Susan Kelly have concentrated on this carver, and their skillfully interpretive rubbings make it possible, as no photographs can ever do, to see the original design work.) He seems to have worked on whatever local stone was available. Usually this is a schist or granite. Stones near Connecticut River are usually sandstones. What makes Peter Barker extremely interesting is not the quality of his work, which must rank as mediocre, but the amazing wide distribution of his stones. They occur at least from southwestern coastal Connecticut (well into the interior of western Connecticut), throughout eastern Connecticut and into Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts in the Narragansett basin area. He may well have been and itinerant carver who moved from place to place. In most eastern Connecticut burying grounds only a very few Barker stones are present. It seems unlikely that such rude work would have been popular enough for the heavy stones have been carried long distances to adorn a faraway graveyard. In any event, Peter Barker is a fine example of how much research is needed, and the intriguing problems involved, in unraveling the history of a single, mediocre worker.

From: Slater, James A. The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them. Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, vol. 21. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1987.
*Homer Babbidge Library call number f/Q/11/C85/v.21