“I’ve come to pay my respects.”
We typically hear this at funerals and cemeteries. But what does this mean? “Respect” comes from the Latin word “respectus” which means “to look back at” or “regard”.
When it comes to a person’s life and he or she is here no more, to respect them is to remember them.
Julia Gustafson, principal owner of Two Rivers Monuments in Ramsey, helps with this. She is one of the few etchers left in Minnesota of custom-made headstones.
Julia would begin her work in 2001 responding to an Ad in the St. Cloud Times needing an artist. She would go to Kinkos, copy some of her artwork, and send it in. She heard nothing until two months later. The Kollmann Granite Company will hire her and she becomes their first woman artist. Though hired to draw Julia wants to etch tombstones. But her pleas to do so are rejected: “if you make a mistake the stone is unforgiving”. So, Julia bought her own headstones and started etching, spending hours upon hours practicing. One day she will bring her work to Kollmann which is met with “you etched this?” She was hired as an etcher on the spot.
Hand diamond etching is a process where the polish on a stone is removed a dot at a time, similar to how tattoo guns work. The alternative to etching is laser which has gained favor in recent years due to its sharp designs and typical lower costs. Laser burns the polish. It doesn’t remove it. But laser has limitations. For the most part it can only be done on black stone. And, if the image is bad so will be the stone. Hand diamond etching produces a quality image, as seen in the samples below, on different color stones. And poor images can be improved by the artist, manually, producing an otherwise lasting image not possible with laser.
As I sat with Julia in her Two Rivers Monument shop along Highway 10 across the highway from Furniture and Things, I was impressed with the stories she told of helping people in their time of loss. She is compassionate. She listens. And she provides solutions.
One story she told was of a customer family member who said: “when I die just dump me on a manure pile”. It’s not difficult to get this guy’s personality. He didn’t want his funeral over dramatized. But no one is going to heed those wishes. Still some family members felt bad about it, in a manner of speaking. So, a flat headstone was created with typical content on the end facing up. On the end facing down that no one will see? The stone read: “manure pile”.
Julia is civic minded, not only allowing but encouraging women in a chemical addiction treatment center nearby to come to her shop to paint. She has a room solely dedicated to this. And Julia allows her customers to come to her shop and watch her work on their order. She will even allow them to etch a few places themselves so that they are literally personally invested in the final product.
“I love my work,” Julia says. By all lasting appearances that is plain to see.