Friday, January 30, 2009

The Magnolia Building: a Follow-up

I’ve been asked by our good friend Margaret Sainte Clair (who lives in Glasgow, Scotland, a place I consider far more interesting than this particular patch of the American prairie we call north Texas, not to mention the fact that saying you are a Glaswegian sounds ever so much better than having to say you are a "Dallasite" or, even worse, "Duncanvillean". "Duncanvillager"?) to say a few words about the supporters next to the arms of the Magnolia Building I discussed on January 27. So here it is, Margaret, just for you! Plus a little more, too.

First off, I’m not certain that, given their postures, they can actually be said to be "supporting" the coat of arms. It looks far more to me like they’re leaning against them, even more so than some of those 18th Century British armorials that show very natural-looking "supporters" not supporting but rather standing behind, or sitting next to, or lying in front of, the coat of arms they are supposedly "supporting". Still, even here, they are in the place where one would expect heraldic supporters to be, so we’ll call them that even though it looks more like the coat of arms is supporting them rather than the other way ‘round.

The dexter supporter (to the viewer’s left) is, clearly, the Roman god Mercury (in the Greek pantheon, Hermes), the messenger of the gods, wearing one of his attributes, his winged helmet (another one is being held by the little guy at his feet), and holding another, the caduceus. (He was supposedly give the caduceus, a rod entwined with two serpents, from the sun god Apollo, in exchange for Mercury’s having made the first lute for him.) Mercury presided over commerce, wrestling and other gymnastic exercises, even thieving; in short, everything which required skill and dexterity.

Though I have been able to find nothing that actually tells you what the sculptor had in mind, the sinister supporter (to the viewer’s right) appears to be Minerva (in Greek, Athena), the Roman goddess of peace, beauty, wisdom, creativity, education, science, and the arts. I take this to be Minerva from the lamp of knowledge held by the little guy at her feet, since as patron goddess of wisdom she frequently features in statuary, seals and other forms at educational institutions.
Balancing the entire achievement is a cornucopia next to Mercury, symbolizing the fertility of the land and the agrarian arts, while the cogwheel next to Minerva symbolizes industry and the mechanical arts.

The "crest" over the shield is, of course, the premier symbol of the United States, the American bald eagle. The wreath surrounding the shield appears to be laurel (to dexter) and oak (to sinister), which is exactly the opposite of the wreath on the seal of the State of Texas (see, e.g., the history and description of the seal on the website of the Secretary of State of Texas at Finally, the legend beneath the shield, MCMXXII, is the year the Magnolia Building was constructed, 1922.

And now you all know far more about this peculiar Dallas, Texas achievement of arms than you probably ever really wanted to!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Heraldry in Dallas, Texas, Part One

One of the things that Jo Ann and I began a while back, though not yet finished, is basically an "heraldic survey" of downtown Dallas, Texas, not too far from where we live. Well, that description may not be entirely accurate. I’m doing an heraldic survey; she’s photographing art and architecture, with occasional shots of heraldry. But we’ve been doing it together, which is a good thing, for us and as it should be for any married couple.

One of the things I’ve noticed in doing this survey is that, despite the relative dearth of heraldry in this country, and especially as compared with many similarly-sized cities in Europe, there actually is a fair amount of heraldic decoration that can be found here in Dallas. Now, admittedly, the single largest portion of decoration on buildings that might be considered to be heraldic is blank escutcheons. Blank shields, blank ovals, blank cartouches. Great places to actually place heraldry, completely blank. Sometimes heavily decorated around the sides, but with the center, the shield, blank.

Still, there are some decent coats of arms to be found. And today I thought I’d share one of my favorites. The accompanying photo is from above the front entrance of the Magnolia Building at 1401 Commerce Street. The building is actually best known for the large, formerly revolving, neon-lit sign of the red flying Pegasus which has been on its roof since being erected there in 1934. (It was rebuilt in 1999.) The building used to be the headquarters for the Magnolia Petroleum Company, later Socony (Standard Oil of New York), and finally Mobil Oil (now part of Exxon-Mobil) which still uses the red Pegasus as its logo. It is now the 330-room Magnolia Hotel.

But I digress. Over the Commerce Street entrance to the building is this really great carving with, as its centerpiece, one of the nicest bits of canting arms (that is, arms that are a pictorial pun or allusion to the name) I think I have seen. (Now, these are probably not "real" arms, in that I doubt very much that they have been registered or granted by any heraldic authority, but this is the United States after all, and self-assumption of arms is as legitimate here as any other method of obtaining a coat of arms.) The arms are extremely simple, and are, of course, "a branch of magnolia" with a single flower at the tip. Magnolia trees grow well in this part of the country; I had one in the front yard of my last house. They grow very large flowers whose scent, when they are in full bloom, can be smelled a good city block away.

I have no idea of the tinctures, of course, as there is neither tricking nor hatching to guide one in determining what the colors should be. And yet, certainly, I should be able to speculate as well as anyone else as to what the tinctures ought to be. Given that the branch itself is probably meant to be "proper", that is to say, brown stem and green leaves, and that magnolia blossoms are white, the presumed blazon (if it were to be tinctured at all, which may not be what the designer had in mind) would be: Or, a branch of magnolia blossomed at the tip proper. But tinctured or not, isn’t that a great bit of canting heraldry?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lookin' Good!

As you have discovered if you’ve come back to this blog, I’ve been playing around with the "look" of it. I’m hoping that this template, or whatever one I eventually select as the permanent one, is more reader-friendly. I have been informed by my wife, who is in many ways way ahead of me technologically, that most readers prefer the links, etc. sidebar to be on the left rather than the right. I would simply have switched them here with the template I was using, but it wasn’t set up to let me do that without having to learn html code, and I figure I’ve got enough new stuff to learn without adding to it with that. Anyway, I hope you like the "new" look, and I’ll probably continue to tweak it for a little while at least, in the hopes of making this blog both user-friendly and good-looking.

Speaking of looking good, since heraldry is pretty much my number one hobby, I have managed over the years to acquire a pretty decent collection of heraldic ties. Not that I get to wear them all that often; ties are not worn where I work, so I pretty much get to pull them out only when I’m going to a special event – one of the international congresses on genealogy and heraldry, or annual meeting of one of the heraldry societies I belong to, or when I’m making a presentation to a genealogy society or conference. Now, I actually like wearing ties, unlike most of the men I know. And I like wearing ties that can show off my hobby. My first heraldic tie was a blue one with shields and simple charges arranged in a pretty random pattern that I bought on eBay way back in, I think, early 1998. I know I was particularly tickled to be able to wear it to the international congress in 1998 in Turin, Italy, since (1) it was an Italian tie, and (2) after the Congress we spent a few days in Venice, and in a small* shop on the Rialto bridge I found and purchased another just like it, only with a yellow instead of navy blue background.

* Of course, there are no large shops on the Rialto bridge!

Still, as the collection of heraldic ties has grown, I’ve had to cull the ties that weren’t heraldic down to the point that I’ve only got, I think, three ties left that have no heraldic figures on them. I keep them around because I really like them and they go well with the suits I own, but I’m just about out of space on my tie rack and if I buy more than one or two more heraldic ties, I’m afraid that something’s going to have to give. And, alas, I’ve found yet another heraldic tie that I have to buy. I went out to see what’s happening at Design Toscano (, since two of the best heraldic ties I own I’ve bought from them, and they have a new one! It’s great – real coats of arms all over it (image at right). Without even looking them up, I recognized the arms of the College of Arms, the city of Amsterdam, Cambridge University, one that I’m pretty certain is Belgian, another that is plainly Austrian, and more from all over Europe. So you can see why I have to buy this tie, despite the chance that I’ll run out of room on the tie rack. Because, just like I want for this blog, I want to keep me "lookin’ good!"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Learning Curves

Okay, this is my first post to my new blog about heraldry. I hope to be able to add to it at least once or twice per week in the future, and I hope that at least some of you dropping by will find some of what you find here interesting and educational.

But this first post is not actually about heraldry -- it's about learning curves. I've not used this kind of software before, and it may take me a while to figure out how to get it hosted the way that I want to. There are very detailed instructions for managing a DNS server and creating a CNAME, none of which seem to apply to the new web host for my website, AT&T. Great. So not only am I learning the different ways that AT&T sets up its web hosting (and email!) from my old host Earthlink, but I've got to try to figure out where they hide the instructions and means to do all that. (I finally gave up trying to locate it -- even the Help feature gave me "No records found" for my inquiries -- and have emailed tech support. So we'll see what they can tell me.)

All this in addition to trying to learn the new digital camera I bought myself for Christmas (I've had a old 35mm Canon AE-1 for years!), and the new cellphone that my wife is using to drag me, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. (I did manage to take a couple of pictures with it the other day. I just haven't quite figured out how to email them to myself yet, so I'll probably simply pull out the memory card and transfer them manually to my PC. How "last decade" is that?)

So the learning curves are ganging up on me right now, and it may take me a little while to get this blog, and all the other stuff, working the way I want it to. But, still, it's a start. I hope you can join me for the trip.