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1950's Renovation :: Frieze Rediscovered

1950's Renovation: Why the Reading Room was divided

The following is an excerpt from Beyond My Expectation: A Personal Chronicle by Guy R. Lyle, Director of Libraries and Professor of Librarianship, 1954-1972:

"… I prepared a plan for remodeling and renovation that was approved by the visiting committee and presented to the President. Dr. (Goodrich C.) White studied the plan with some care and then called me in.

"'Guy,' he said, with what I thought was a pained look in his eye, 'do we really have to gut the building?'

Students in Reading Room

"I think he was referring particularly to the proposal to divide the thirty-two-foot-high Reading Room, which extended almost the entire length of the building, into two rooms of equal size by installing a new floor at midpoint all the way across the room, thereby reducing the height of each room to approximately twelve feet. No sooner had this proposal reached the architect who originally designed the building, and the critics on the campus who were against all change, than they swarmed over to the President's office to suggest that this meddler was about to ruin the aesthetics of the Asa Griggs Candler Library and ought to quit.

"I agreed that any form of remodeling to an existing building was bound to have its defects but that the Reading Room divider gave us three-quarters of all usable new space in the building and make (sic) possible the creation of a Science Library. The Science Library in turn would take the pressure off the demands for science departmental collections, which were expensive to maintain and would further fragment the collection. It would also relieve the congestion in the bookstacks by the removal of all science material and allow for future growth. Finally I stressed the fact that we might reasonably expect a hundred percent increase in library use because the two new reading rooms would be air-conditioned and the lighting greatly improved by the reduction in ceiling heights. As it was now the students left the Library in droves when the temperature hit eighty to ninety in the large Reading Room during the late spring, summer, and fall terms.

"Buttressed by the endorsement of the special building committee, the President wasted no time in approving the project, and the remodeling and renovation program got underway immediately. On November 15, 1957, the library held an Open House to mark the completion of the remodeling project. A number of friends of Emory attended as well as a goodly sprinkling of the chief librarians of other universities in the Southeast. Dr. William Dix of Princeton made an informal address in the evening, and I expressed special thanks to President White and the nine members of the building committee."

The Scarecrow Press, Inc.; Metuchen, N.J., & London, 1981. pp 174-175.


Frieze Rediscovered

The following is an article from the Winter 1999 issue of Emory Magazine:

“The Triumph of Alexander” Restored

High along the walls of the third floor of the Asa G. Candler Library, the conquering troops of Alexander the Great once brandished sword and shield. Directly over the circulation desk, the vanquished Babylonian King Darius welcomed the victorious Alexander to his city, while harpists, children, chanting magi, sheep, camels, and lions clamored beneath the library’s mullioned mezzanine windows.

Installed when the library was built in 1926, this plaster frieze depicting “The Triumph of Alexander” ornamented the walls of Candler for decades. The twenty-six panels of the frieze faded from the University’s collective memory after they disappeared from the Candler walls during renovations in the mid-1950s. Recently, however, a photograph of the building’s lobby discovered in the University archives reminded library staff members of the frieze’s existence.

“I figured it had gotten either plastered over [during the renovations] or damaged prior to that, and nobody really worried about it,” says University archivist Virginia Cain—or so she believed until she mentioned the frieze to Woodruff Library director of budget and planning Charles Forrest.

“Charles is an intrepid explorer,” says Cain, “and he’d been up in the attic of Candler. He remembered some odd crates way out under the eaves, but he never knew what they were.”

On a hunch that the crates might contain, Forrest, Cain, and two other colleagues climbed into the Candler attic with flashlights and a crowbar on chilly February day last year. In a cramped corner, they pried the crates open to reveal fifteen of the panels. On a later mission to photograph and document their findings, the crew uncovered the eleven remaining panels. Forty years before, someone had painstakingly removed the pieces from the mezzanine wall, packed them in wood and cardboard, and stored them away.

The panels were moved to a more hospitable environment in Woodruff Library to await restoration. The frieze had suffered from fluctuating temperatures, high humidity, and water damage from a leaky roof, and much of the plaster had been stained or broken. A dusting of red clay powder from the library’s roof tiles coated several of the panels.

By the spring, the frieze was on display in the Woodruff Library’s Schatten Gallery. One by one, the panels were removed from the exhibit, shipped out to the studio of restorer Connie Hansen for repair, and returned. Meanwhile, Schatten Gallery director Valerie Watkins began looking in the frieze’s history.

Watkins found a small seal on the base of one of the panels, which revealed that Emory’s reproduction of the work was produced by P.P. Caproni and Brother, a plaster cast company that sold architectural art out of its Boston showroom. The original frieze was created by the Danish neoclassical sculptor Bartholomew Thorwaldsen in 1811. Thorwaldsen was commissioned to create the bas-relief frieze in a harmonious, free-flowing, classical style for the Palace of the Quirinale in Rome to honor a visit from Napoleon. He chose the theme of Alexander’s triumph in Babylon as a symbolic parallel to Napoleon’s victories.

Cain surmises that Edward Tilton, the library’s architect, sought out this particular frieze because of its classical qualities.

“They were creating a classical, elegant, temple to learning in Candler Library,” she says. “In the early days, Emory people were somewhat self-conscious about building this whole new university out of the mud, and they wanted something that was intellectually appealing.”

In an April 1926 Emory Alumnus article about the library, Professor of English James Hinton ‘06C described the frieze as a triumphal reproduction “girdling the hall.” Hinton also saw a new intellectual standard set in the library’s design. In this building, Emory has unquestionably one of the best appointed library buildings in the South,” he wrote, “a building indeed that is a challenge to Emory men.”

Plans for renovations to Candler—the only building on the Quadrangle not recently restored—include the reinstallation of the frieze. While it won’t be mounted in its original location, chances are it will be nearby, on the walls of the reading room.

“It’s a fascinating link to Emory’s past,” says Cain. “It was almost a part of ‘vanishing Emory,’ but it never really vanished. It was just very well hidden.”

Allison O. Adams

 


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