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!

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