The Merry Cemetery of Sarpanta, where death does not deprive you of the dignity of ordinary life, a first-rate portrait and complaints about your mother-in-law

Picnic at the Cathedral

I don’t like to talk about it, but there was a dark time in my life.  I mean, I’m not ashamed exactly–it’s not like I was beating puppies or something.  The truth is, I was portrait painter.  An earnest, hard-working, spectacularly unsuccessful portrait painter.  No need to cue what my grandma called “the world’s smallest violin playing the world’s saddest song”.  I’m just telling you this so you realize that I qualify as an authority on portraiture.  I know how challenging it is to strike the right tone, to represent the complexity of a human life in a single image.  Creating a portrait these days is like sitting down with 10,000 years of art history, a high school yearbook and a selfie-stick.

Stan Ion Patras, creator of The Merry Cemetary of Sapanta, in Maramureș Romania, was one hell of a portrait artist.  Mr. Patras carved and painted a cemetery full of wooden tribute crosses beginning in 1935 until his death…

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