Rubbing out a little history
One Pickens resident is well-acquainted with medieval knights in English cathedrals.
Eleanor Cotton Gardiner is a creator and collector of brass rubbings – designs transferred from ancient burial covers.
She has lived in many countries, but in 2001 came to live in Pickens and brought her collection of brass rubbings with her. Recently, Gardener donated the collection of about 40 brass rubbings to Southern Wesleyan University.
“They came from churches. I think it’s appropriate to give them to a Christian university. The rubbings were not for sale, as many of the churches were poor and only charged a small access fee,” Gardiner said. “I’ve been really impressed with the faculty and students at Southern Wesleyan University.”
Brass rubbings are transferred images from brass burial plates placed on top of ancient burial sites in churches. The brass plates featured etchings of those who are buried at the site, often with armor or medieval clothing. The plates were put on top of burial sites to prevent grave robbers from disturbing the grave, Gardiner said.
She has done brass rubbings in England at Westminster Abbey, All Hallows Church and St. Albans church – the site of the first Christian martyr. Gardiner’s late husband worked for the American Embassy in London and they lived there for three years.
“The brasses are the most authentic study of medieval armor,” she said.
The oldest brass plate from which she has created a rubbing was a 12th Century brass.
“They’re unique,” Gardiner said. “Every one of them has a story.”
The Smithsonian Institution was interested in the rubbings, but she chose to give them to Southern Wesleyan University instead. Judge Joseph Board, who befriended her late husband and is a friend of the university, recommended that she donate the brass rubbings.
“I knew it was the right thing to do. It’s a joy to see it come to fruition,” she said. “What could be more perfect than having them at Southern Wesleyan University?”
Dr. Paul Wood, faculty member emeritus at SWU, said the university hopes to display the brass rubbings on campus.
“The rubbings are being recorded, researched and cataloged here,” Wood said.
Gardiner started creating rubbings in 1964 on a trip to England.
“I started asking questions,” she said. “I just learned by doing.”
To make a brass rubbing, first the brass must be cleaned, Gardiner said. Then thin, draftsman’s detail paper is put over the brass plate and unrolled as heel ball wax or a crayon is used to rub the paper and transfer the brass design.
A rubbing can take four to eight hours, she said. A tiny rock on the surface of the brass can tear the rubbing paper and destroy the delicate project, she said.