Monday, August 30, 2010

The strange obsessions of the gargoyle hunter

I don't expect to get much sympathy, but truly, being a gargoyle hunter is not easy. It's not easy on the hunter and it's not easy on the hunter's friends. The only person it's at all easy on is the gargoyle (and yes, I realize I just called a stone building ornament a "person").

If you've been following this blog of late, you'll know that I spent 10 days at the end of July in Chicago with my sister Roxe, the family genealogist (whose life is also hard, but I'll her get her own blog to complain about the travails of the family-hunter). We attended one arranged family reunion (the Murrays) and a dinner Roxe organized with a few members of the Kalodimos side of the family.

As you can sort of tell from this map of Chicago* I posted in our hotel room, replete with little Post-It flags showing all the places we had to go, we had some ground to cover. For reasons too complicated to go into here, Roxe did all the driving and I did all the navigating. But everywhere we went, I was checking out buildings for interesting faces. (While I was navigating - which is easier and safer to do than gargoyle-hunting while driving.)

To her credit, Roxe did not wring my neck, although she did ask several times, "What?! What happened?! What are you looking at?!" thinking a crime in progress or a crash site had caught my attention.

She also agreed to drive up and down Clark Street so I could find this fellow

who I shot when I was in the city in 2004. On that trip, I rode the #22 Clark bus all the way to the northernmost end of the line, way past Diversey where I lived for a short time. (Sorry to bore those not familiar with Chicago with these details.) It was a long ride, up to Devon (which Chicagoans mispronounce). It was on that bus ride that I saw this guy, hopped off and shot him (and a partner he had on a neighboring building) and I thought it would be fun to find him again and reshoot him.

We drove up and down Clark Street three times — and I never saw him or his friend. Who knows what happened to my stone friends? I fear his building may have been torn down in the intervening six years. I actually felt bereft... until Roxe had enough of Clark Street and announced that we were going to do some actual genealogy work, whereupon she turned into one of the cemeteries just off Clark where our maternal grandparents are buried.

* A common feature of Chicago maps is the truncation of the South Side. To any Chicago mapmakers who might be reading this: give us back the South Side! It should be possible to put the whole of Chicago on a map. Besides, the South Side is an important part of the city. When was the last time the North Side baseball team won a pennant, never mind the World Series, hmmm?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Faces in the 'hood

While in Chicago for the family reunions and genealogical research, we stayed in a Days Inn in Lakeview, the old neighbourhood (where I lived for a time way back in ... never mind). I wandered around and found a bunch of faces and gargoyles I never noticed when I lived there. But of course, I lived there before my gargoyle awakening.

They're everywhere! I don't know what these buildings were originally - I'd research them if I weren't working on another book - but they were highly decorated.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A pox on your ivy!

Ivy clinging to walls looks all scholarly and academic, but it can be destructive when its roots worm their way into fissures in the stone.

So I was shocked and concerned when I saw that many of the sculptures on Ryerson University's Kerr Hall were completely obscured by ivy when I led a Heritage Toronto walking tour there on Sunday, based on Faces on Places, my book about Toronto's architectural sculpture.

The ivy was much, much thicker than is seen in this picture, shot in 2005. The sculpture pictured here is of a javelin thrower by Elizabeth Wyn Wood. She was one of four leading Canadian sculptors of the mid-20th century (the others were Dora de Pédery-Hunt, Jacobine Jones and Thomas Bowie) who were chosen to decorate Kerr Hall when it was built in the early 1960s with sculptures representing the aims of an institute of higher learning in the heart of a city.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy has made no secret of the fact that he'd like to see Kerr Hall torn down. He's been saying that since before the university's "master plan" was released, envisioning greater integration of the campus into downtown Toronto.

That was four years ago, and Kerr Hall is still standing. Is it Ryerson's apparent ambivalence about Kerr Hall that has resulted in this inaction? For the sake of the sculptures, which surely will be saved if Kerr Hall is demolished, the ivy should be removed and any necessary repairs or cleaning undertaken. Several people on the tour, unprompted by me, voiced that opinion, which I hope they will communicate to the university.

Speaking of opinions, researchers in Oxford, England, are investigating whether ivy is actually damaging, or whether it plays a "bioprotective role ... on the surface of historical buildings and structures as an agent of thermal and moisture regulation."

Hmmmmm... With all the gargoyles and whatnot in Oxford, you'd think they would know. But over on this side of the pond, Yale University - an actual Ivy League school - has been waging a war on the vines for some time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chicago cemetery sculpture

My visits to Chicago cemeteries were largely to find and record the gravestones of distant and not-so-distant relatives, all of whom had pretty unexceptional stones. But I noticed a few that I thought worth taking the time to shoot. And of course, the most striking sculptures would have to be the ones marking the graves of children...

This one (left) was for a whole section of the cemetery labelled "Lullabyland," where mostly young children were buried. I don't know who created it or why a child staring down a lamb was thought to be appropriate, but I do like the look of determination on the girl's face.

This one (right), which seemed to cry out to be rendered in black and white, marked the grave of a girl named Lauretta who died at the age of seven in 1898.

The cemetery where we had no relatives at all and as a result had only 15 minutes for a quick drive-through was Graceland Cemetery where anybody who was anybody in Chicago history is buried. I'd like to take a tour of the place the next time I'm in Chicago, to see the graves of the notables and some of the fantastic sculpture there. The only figure I had time to snap (and from inside the car at that) was "Eternal Silence" by Lorado Taft which watches over the grave of Dexter Graves (yes, that's his name), one of the city's first settlers.

This figure is also known as the "Statue of Death," and originally was entirely black, except for the face, hidden in the hood of the robe.
Legend has it that if you look into the face you will glimpse your own death. But legend also has it that the figure is impossible to photograph, and that cameras won't function in its presence. It certainly is eerie, but obviously, photographable.

Note to Pamela Williams: Your cemetery sculpture gig is secure!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Deerly departed

I have just returned from a family reunion in Chicago. Actually, not having ever heard of these relatives, let alone met them, I suppose it was more of a union than a reunion. Part of the trip involved going through cemeteries and shooting family monuments (and interesting cemetery sculpture, following the lead of Pamela Williams - see links; results will be posted shortly).

We noticed a couple of bucks wandering through one cemetery, eating the flowers and whatnot, and spent about 20 minutes following and shooting... I mean, photographing them.

Yes, the first pic (top) was shot through the car windshield, but then I got out and followed them around:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Back in business, baby!

Sorry for the long absence, folks. The day job and numerous other responsibilities have occupied all of my waking hours over the last year. (Has it been that long?!) But I'm back now.

NEWS: See the sidebar (right) for an upcoming Faces on Places-themed walking tour, and a link to a chapter of my forthcoming biography of Merle Foster.

Photos and regular updates to resume presently.