In case you hadn’t heard, Parducci Society is presenting a photographic exhibition of Corrado Parducci’s work during the Detroit Design Festival. We could hardly believe our luck when we learned that our exhibit would be held in what happens to be one of Detroit’s most magnificently ornamented buildings; the Detroit Public Library.
Designed by renown New York architect Cass Gilbert in 1921, the library epitomizes the ideals of the City Beautiful movement, that incorporating art and knowledge in public places improves quality of life. The building design was first proposed in a 1915 plan laid out by city planner Edward H. Bennett for a cultural center in Detroit. The construction of the library itself was largely funded by a grant awarded in 1910 by Andrew Carnegie, who funded over 2,000 new libraries in the early twentieth century, including nine within the Detroit Public Library system. In 1915, Cass Gilbert won a design competition for the new library with his Italian Renaissance style design. However, due to a moratorium on construction during WWI, the library was not completed until 1921.
Set back from Woodward Avenue by a wide front lawn, the stunning white marble facade is perfectly symmetrical with a prominent central main entrance topped by a massive second story arched loggia. The heavily ornamented exterior includes molded window and door openings, a first story belt course carved with the names of Greek philosophers, urn statuettes mounted in front of windows on either side of the central bay, bas-relief panels along the frieze carrying signs of the zodiac, and an elaborate terra cotta cornice at the roof line.
And guess who worked on it? In 1921, Parducci lived in New York and worked for the firm Zari and Ricci who Gilbert commissioned to do the exterior ornamentation. We aren’t sure what the extent of Parducci’s involvement in that commission was yet, but we do know he designed the lintel above the main entrance.
In 1963, architects Cass Gilbert, Jr. and Francis J. Keally designed a modern, white marble addition to the library’s Cass Avenue elevation. The addition features a central entrance consisting of a large door surround faced in dark green marble with red columns, bronze-framed doors, and an elaborate mosaic entitled, “River of Knowledge” by Los Angeles – based artist Millard Sheets.
If the exterior ornamentation doesn’t make your jaw drop enough, the building’s interior will surely floor you. It showcases some of Detroit’s most incredible public art. The fireplace in the children’s library on the first floor features tiles by Mary Perry Chase Stratton of Pewabic Pottery and the stairwell to the third floor features murals devoted to the arts by master New York based muralist Edwin H. Blashfield. But Adam Strohm Hall, the original book delivery room where our exhibit will be located, is the library’s true gem. The east wall carries three murals about Detroit history by Detroit artist Gari Melcher, the opposite wall features a triptych mural depicting the progress of transportation, called Man’s Mobility, completed by John Steven’s Coppin, and the north and south walls carry two groupings of three stained glass windows by Frederick J. Wiley of New York. All of this dynamic art is framed by the warm blues, reds, and golds of intricately painted ceilings throughout much of the building.
Join us for our exhibition, September 19 – 29 in Adam Strohm Hall, or for the closing reception, September 29 from 1 to 5 p.m. The reception will include a brief talk by photographer and exhibit curator, Jennifer Baross, a chance to make your own lino-block print of a Parducci design, and of course, refreshments. Both the exhibit and the reception are free and open to the public.
Ferry, W. Hawkins. The Buildings of Detroit. Wayne State University Press. 1980.
Eckert, Kathryn Bishop, ed. Buildings of Michigan, revised edition. Charlottesville. 2012.