Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alexander triumphs at the Chariton Public Library

It's tempting to play the where-and-what-is-this? game with this one --- a plaster frieze entitled "The Triumph of Alexander in Babylon" embedded in oak. But I'll resist. Although countless Lucas Countyans have have looked at it, passed by it or sat underneath it since 1904. And I'm wondering how many recognize it.

It might help if I backed up so you could see that it's located above a fireplace. If you're still not there, the fireplace is located in the east room, originally the children's room, of the Chariton Free Public Library and has been there since 1904. The original section of our rather grand "Chariton Plan" Carnegie, designed by Patton & Miller of Chicago and the prototype for many others in the Midwest, was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1904, so it will be celebrating its 110th birthday before long.

The donor of the frieze was Lizzie Crips, one of several remarkable Chariton women involved in creation of the library --- a charter member of the library board who served until her death during 1934. She will be featured during this year's Cemetery Heritage Tour on Sept. 21, I'm working on scripts for the tour right now, so that's why Lizzie and her frieze came to mind.

"The Triumph," a miniaturized fragment of a much larger work executed ca. 1833 in both plaster and marble by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, was downright trendy during the year the library was built and dedicated because a full-scale reproduction was on display at the St. Louis World's Fair of that year.

In fact, the library fireplace has a couple of world fair association. If you opened the screen, you'd see the andirons --- brought home by Smith H. Mallory from the Iowa Building at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and donated to the library by his widow and daughter, Annie Mallory and Jessie (Mallory) Thayer --- both involved, too, in the library project.

Thorvaldsen was hugely popular, widely admired and critically acclaimed during his lifetime (1770-1844), but he was a strict classicist, his work is rather stiff and later critics have been underwhelmed. None-the-less, his work remains familiar and beloved.

His statue of a distinctly European-looking Christ figure, sometimes called Christus Consolator and housed at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, has been embraced symbolically by millions of Lutherans --- as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has used it for years to emphasize the centrality of Christ to its doctrine.

And even my old buddy R. Webb Cole would recognize Thorvaldsen's Lion of Lucerne, a fatally wounded lion among symbols of fallen empire widely admired by Confederates after the Civil War as symbolic of their own fallen cause and incorporated into memorials here and there. There's a stunning example in the Confederate Cemetery at Higginsville, Missouri, just down the road from Webb's stomping ground, Lexington.

Anyhow, next time you're in the library look up, admire and say thanks to Lizzie for her enduring contribution to our library.

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