New book celebrates architectural sculpture on Detroit buildings
They look down on us from the Fisher Building, Bankers Trust, Masonic Temple, and a host of other Detroit buildings – gargoyles and other frozen faces that were created 100 years ago and adorn the city’s grand architecture.
Photographer and writer Jeff Morrison was always intrigued by their presence when he was a kid, he said, forever asking his father, “Why is that there? What does that mean?”
Fortunately, that curiosity led to a new book just being published – “Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in Motor City” by Wayne State University Press.
With 770 images of 59 buildings, from churches to branches of the Detroit Public Library, this is a richly illustrated coffee table book to enjoy and browse at your leisure.
“I found so much architectural sculpture in Detroit that I just had to narrow the book down to the city,” said Morrison. “I think one of the next books might be Guardians of Michigan, which does the rest of the state.”
Those familiar with Detroit architecture will appreciate this opportunity to learn more about the often anonymous sculptors who worked with architects, whether Corrado Parducci, Julius Melchers, or Thomas Tibble, during the golden age of building from the teenagers to the 1930s .
“Work on the Book-Cadillac Hotel was tibbles,” said Morrison, “while Parducci was doing the exterior work on the Fisher Building – although it was designed by Geza Maroti.”
The true menagerie of gargoyles on top of the fisherman – but largely invisible from the ground – was made by Ulysses Ricci.
“One building that embodies the architectural sculpture of Detroit,” said Morrison, “is the Trinity Episcopal Church,” the gray-stone Gothic Revival Church of Martin Luther King and Trumbull.
“The original plan was for 172 outdoor sculptures by Edward Q. Wagner and Richard G. Reuther,” he said, “but 10 or so were not made because Detroit News founder James Scripps, who paid for everything, got pissed off Congregation and pulled his money and went away. “
On the other hand, there is a rumor that Scripps’ angry spirit haunts the church’s bell tower to this day.
Morrison, who was a graphic artist by trade, said he had been photographing building details for over 15 years but didn’t focus on producing the book until around 2016.
It turned out to be a mammoth project. “I submitted about 800 pictures for the book,” he said, “but shot somewhere between 10 and 20,000.”
Interestingly, Morrison shot it all with his Canon 5D Mark III in full screen mode without a tripod.
“Almost all of the shots, about 95 percent, were from the ground,” he said, “and all in hand.”
There is also a Guardians of Detroit coloring book that Morrison published last year that is available on his website. For new projects, in addition to a possible “Guardians of Michigan”, Morrison has a graphic novel in mind that is based on architectural sculpture and is aimed at young readers.
“My son is a fantasy writer and his wife is an illustrator,” he said. “So we could have fun.”
Guardians of Detroit Book Release Party
March 30, 2-4 p.m.
Music Room, Detroit Public Library Headquarters, 5201 Woodward, Detroit