June 2, 2017

More Stone Creatures

        The griffin just above in the heading of this blog is based on a stone carving on one of the buildings on the Yale University campus.  I posted last week’s stone carved creatures because I knew I’d be heading to Yale for my reunion, and had Yale’s wonderful architecture on my mind.  While there I made a point of taking pictures of some of the marvelous fantastical animals I spotted.
        I do have to apologize for bad photos - distance, poor light, and phone camera don’t help, and many architectural carvings are not very accessible.  Still, I hope you can get an idea of the whimsy and creativity the anonymous stone carvers put into their work.  I say anonymous - presumably their names do exist somewhere, on payroll records deep in the college archives, as most of these carvings date from the nineteen-thirties, not the medieval era!  But I could not readily find any information about the artists.
        So, first of all I have two views of my favorite little griffin, from the back gate of Calhoun/Hopper residential college.  I love its scaly tail and feather-circled eyes like daisies.  It looks so sweet!  From Davenport, another residential college, I give you an indeterminate monster with a frog mouth, leonine haunches, and intense eyes - definitely not sweet.  From Trumbull College comes a sort of King-Kong-wannabe: something giant and monkey-like apparently climbing a steeple.  Although the other monkeys down below seem to be pantomiming that they think this guy is crazy, it seems perfectly pleased with itself.
        These bird-headed beings can be found on the arches over the entrance to the Law School.  What’s the connection between studying law and being a bird-brain?  Are the students wise as owls, or do they just parrot back their lessons?  I can’t say, but I do know that some artist was having fun.
        I’m especially sorry not to have a better picture of this monster from the Art Gallery.  It was in a dark stairwell and there wasn’t much I could do to adjust my position or the lighting.  At any rate, it appears to be a sort of fish-tailed griffin-ish thing, which is quite delightful.
        And finally a traditional lamassu, an Assyrian protective diety, often carved guarding entrances.  This one comes from above the entrance to Sterling Library, and can be attributed to the only named artists I could find: designed by Lee Lawrie (USA, 1877-1963) and executed by Rene Paul Chambellan (USA, 1893-1955).  Unlike this post’s other creatures, this was not decorative whimsy, but was part of a carefully planned symbolic array celebrating the scholarly achievements of ancient civilizations around the world.  (The Sterling entrance relief also includes inscriptions of texts representing each writing system, which I think is pretty awesome.)  You can see the Art Deco influence in his very geometric wing feathers, unlike some of the more Gothic-styled carvings.
          I’m sure there are many more mythical creatures at Yale, as there were plenty of buildings I didn’t visit and corners I didn’t inspect, and many of these carvings are tucked away in relatively out-of-the way locations.  But I hope you enjoy these, and appreciate the creativity, humor, and attention to detail that went into this work, as well as the obvious delight in fantasy creatures.

[Pictures: stone carvings from buildings of Yale University, most from the late 1920s and 1930s (All photos by AEGN).]

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