Glad to see many trust activities end

February 4, 2011
By

The Forest Hills Educational Trust was created in an effort to increase citywide awareness of and build a constituency for Forest Hills Cemetery. It succeeded very well at increasing public awareness and appreciation of Forest Hills Cemetery. However, the very fact that the name did not include “cemetery” caused it to fail in constituency building.

I think this was illustrated clearly in Joe Bergin’s letter (JP Gazette, Jan. 21) saying he regretted that the trust’s programming ended. He said he regrets the loss of poetry readings. Forest Hills Cemetery doesn’t need “culture” to legitimize its place in our city.

The trust from the very start used Forest Hills Cemetery as an empty space that required filling with plastic and performance arts. Much of the art is undignified and cheapens the carefully made landscape, which is the real art to begin with. The Trust made possible only one single great work of art at Forest Hills Cemetery: Fern Cunningham’s “The Sentinel.”

Using the space as it did is at odds with the trust’s success at creating awareness of Forest Hills Cemetery. The cost was to estrange those of us who love Forest Hills Cemetery for what it is and to confound the newcomers who came to be entertained. The trust never understood the history and value of Forest Hills Cemetery. 

In my view, the trust ignored John Eliot and Henry Dearborn and the cemetery’s place in Roxbury history. It ignored Memorial Day. 

Forest Hills Cemetery is a work of art. The trust failed to understand the value of the landscape and permitted the woodlot to expand on and disfigure Eliot Hill. It never established an arborculture program. The tree canopy of Forest Hills Cemetery is one of its greatest landscape features together with the terraces; only recently is a larger program coming back to manage it. The public would have generously donated to that if it had been involved and felt more welcome. The carefully landscaped grounds are cluttered with contemporary art that has had its day. It all deserves a better home at MassMoca.

In the past 20 years, much scholarly work has been achieved at Forest Hills Cemetery, much it under the trust’s watch over the past 10 years. The cemetery’s archives have been documented, annotated, organized and preserved. Its indoor and outdoor sculpture has been catalogued, researched, attributed and preserved. Some of the most valuable funereal sculptures have been duplicated. Now this work needs to be continued and published. 

Forest Hills Cemetery is a private, nonprofit corporation—that began as what was then the City of Roxbury’s cemetery—and is therefore free to program activities as the cemetery trustees see best. I was free to stay away. The trustees of Forest Hills Cemetery have now wisely reconsidered the trust’s value, and I am grateful to return.

Richard Heath
Jamaica Plain