Monday, November 29, 2010

Chimps in chains, update

I've just heard from Sue Dutton, the archivist for Bishop Strachan School, and she has no information about why a pair of chimps appears on the school building.

" We also have a dragon and a lion, but I have never seen any documentation that explains these decorative choices," she wrote in an e-mail. "The oldest wing of the current school building was built in 1913-1915. Although the BSS Prospectus for the 1915-1916 school year goes to great lengths to describe the style of the new building, Collegiate Gothic, and many modern features such as hot-water heating and sound-proof music rooms, it does not mention these sculptures. I believe it can be assumed they were simply added as whimsical decorations that the girls attending the school would enjoy."

I've read similar articles in architectural journal that frustratingly, elaborate the innards of buildings but either never mention the outside (beyond a simple description, such as "Collegiate Gothic") or refer only vaguely to sculptural details, but not in detail.

But I am convinced that architects didn't and don't stick any old animals or bearded figures on their buildings for the hell of it. There's a reason, although it may have been lost.

South High School in Denver has an extensive sculptural programme - and the background information explaining the architects' choices is contained in the school's yearbook. Stay tuned for a forthcoming post featuring pictures from that school.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why are there two chimps on a girls' school?

The main façade of Bishop Strachan School, the private girls' school in Toronto's tony Forest Hill neighbourhood, sports two stone chimps, each clutching although not apparently restrained by a ball and chain.


I've searched the internet, called the school, checked a few architectural journal articles from 1916 when Sproatt and Rolph designed the building, and not found the answer.

Does anyone out there know, with a reference? Or have any ideas?

Stay tuned - I haven't given up finding the answer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. friends

Happy Thanksgiving (a few days early) to our American friends!

It seems especially appropriate this year that the symbol of Thanksgiving is a flightless bird, as we wait to see how many travellers are grounded for refusing to submit to security screening "pat-downs."

Turkey-and-corn relief is from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The last of Vancouver

I've already posted most of the faces that I found on the Hotel Vancouver (sorry, The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver) - here and here.

But after posting the sculpture of George Vancouver's ship Discovery yesterday, I had to finish off with this sculpture from the Georgia Street entrance of the hotel. (Actually, this is the third Hotel Vancouver on this site, at Georgia and Burrard. The Architects were John S. Archibald and John Schofield who began construction in 1928, and finished 11 years later, in time for the first Canadian visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.)

Above it is Hermes, the Greek messenger god who was also the god of commerce. (His Roman counterpart is Mercury.)

And here ends the faces I bagged while in Vancouver. There are more, but there is only so much hunting I can do when I'm travelling for the Day Job.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marine Building, Vancouver (part 2)

The Marine Building, at Hastings and Burrard, is one of Canada's great art deco masterpieces. Construction began in 1929 and almost immediately upon completion in 1930, became a victim of the Great Depression. Its owners had trouble attracting tenants and by 1933, sold the building which had cost $2.3 million (more than $1 million over budget) for a paltry $900,000.

The Marine Building has an interesting history, but I'm keen to get back to the decoration. The Burrard Street entrance (above), features a ship's prow sailing out of the sunset, with Canada geese flying across the rays.

Along the inside of the archway at the entrance are terra cotta reliefs of ships that are significant in Vancouver history — including, of course, Captain George Vancouver's ship, HMS Discovery, with which he explored the coasts of British Columbia in 1792.

As for faces on the Marine building (apart from the faces of the sealife that appear everywhere), there are two images of Neptune. You can glimpse one of them in the picture of the top six or seven storeys in the previous post. Here's a close-up, in which you can clearly see the Roman god of the sea clutching his trident.

Neptune also appears as the figurehead on a ship on a two-storey-long sculptural work on another corner of the building. The detail here also gives a nice close-up (if I do say so myself) of a seahorse:

Marine Building, Vancouver (part 1)

Another McCarter & Nairne work in Vancouver (see article on the Nurses of Vancouver below) is the Marine Building.

I'm interested primarily in buildings with faces, and while the Marine Building has a few of those, it's a riot of sculptural decoration. The exterior is covered with, among other things, terra cotta representations of 1920s-vintage modes of transport.

True to its maritime name, many of these are seagoing vessels, such as a naval ship,

a Viking-type ship,

and a submarine.

There are also a biplane,

a Zeppelin

and a steam locomotive.

More about the history of the building and its faces tomorrow.