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21 July 2017
Morning Sedition

Patience and Fortitude


Yes, Virginia, the lions at New York Public do have names. Following on the heels of my reference about "things New Yorkers need to know", I'm writing up the origin of their names, and a little history. You may not know, for example, that they are made of marble that was selected for it's close resemblance to concrete.

The world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the majestic Beaux-Arts building of The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan have captured the imagination and affection of New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world since the Library was dedicated on May 23, 1911.

According to Henry Hope Reed in his book The New York Public Library, the sculptor Edward Clark Potter obtained the commission for the lions on the recommendation of August Saint-Gaudens, one of America's foremost sculptors. Potter was paid $8,000 for the modelling, and Piccirilli Brothers executed the carving for $5,000, using pink Tennessee marble.

The Lions have witnessed countless parades and pageants. They have been adorned with holly wreaths during the winter holidays and magnificent floral wreaths in springtime. They have been decked in tri-cornered hats and graduation caps. They have been photographed alongside countless tourists, replicated as bookends, caricatured in cartoons, and illustrated in numerous books. One even served as the hiding place for the cowardly lion in the motion picture The Wiz.

Their nicknames have changed over the decades. First they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after The New York Public Library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lord Astor and Lady Lenox (even though they are both male lions). During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have stood the test of time: Patience still guards the south side of the Library's steps and Fortitude sits unwaveringly to the north.

As a tribute to the Lions' popularity and all that they stand for, the Library adopted these figures as its mascots. They are trademarked by the Library, represented in its logo, and featured at major occasions.

The Library Lions: Patience and Fortitude

In 2004 the lions were restored. Unlike the butchery done to poor George Washington over at Washington Square Park — thank you Henry Stern for sandblasting his face after being warned what would happen — this job was done right.

"Like many New Yorkers who take a respite from the city, Patience and Fortitude have returned from a brief time of seclusion looking wonderfully refreshed, but not noticeably altered," remarked Dr. LeClerc. "The lions were showing the inevitable signs of sitting outside for 93 years. They are such powerful and beloved symbols of this city, the Library wished to preserve, improve and stabilize their integrity before any significant deterioration occurs, so they may start their second century of sitting guard in top form."

The Bresnan report determined that the lions were in structurally sound condition but were showing the visual effects of surface weathering, caused primarily by 10 decades of exposure to the elements and exacerbated by pollutants, people climbing on them (which is prohibited), and the rare act of vandalism. This surface damage appears as a roughness of the marble grain, a slight loss of detail in the carving, and several hairline cracks. Fortitude (the north lion) has also sustained two larger cracks on each side of its mane and is showing the edges and pins of the marble patches -- called dutchmen -- that were installed to correct a design flaw at the time of the sculpture's carving in 1911.

What was done?

The hairline cracks on each lion were injected with grout to stabilize the progress of the cracking. Gypsum deposits were removed by micro-abrasion to deter water and soil retention. General soil cleaning was performed by water misting. Stainless steel pins were installed to secure the two larger cracks, which were finished with a compatible patching material. The perimeter of the dutchmen were repointed and the existing pin holes filled. The Milford Pink granite pedestals on which the lions rest were repointed with a new compatible mortar.

Restored Library Lions Unveiled, 19 November 2004


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