You Say Gryphon, I Say Griffin! The Bronze Sculptures of Lillian H. Smith Branch

June 17, 2016 | Sarah

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  Lillian H. Smith library griffinsLillian H. Smith Branch griffins. Photographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

Toronto Public Library has two magical bronze griffin lion sculptures guarding the front doors of the Lillian H. Smith branch. New York Public Library has its lions, but we like ours better! The two creatures gracing the arched brick entrance at Lillian H. Smith branch were designed and constructed by architect Philip H. Carter and sculptor Ludzer Vandermolen. 

The lion is Edgar, after the benefactor of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, and the eagle is Judith, named for the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.

I spoke with Ludzer about building these sculptures, a process he says went by "swimmingly."

According to Vandermolen, each griffin weighs 3 tonnes or 3000 kilograms (that's the size of a small elephant!) and they took about 1.5 years to make. Small clay models were approved by the Library Board, then enlarged and cast in fibreglass and wax before being sent to the foundry. Since they are so big, they were cast in different sections - about 12 parts for each statue. The bronze finisher was Vince Graham. The team of sculptors included Ludzer, Kirk Sutherfield, Joanne Sherman, Rebecca Vandermolen, Jim Brewster, Michael Bodor, and others. Ludzer reminded me that Philip Carter was also instrumental in their design and creation.

Last year, which marked the 20th anniversary of the library opening, Ludzer kindly donated copies of his photographs documenting the construction of the statues. Here are a few glimpses into the genesis of these one-of-a-kind sculptures:Griffins with their miniaturesPhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

Here is Edgar the lion in clay:Edward the lion head in clayPhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

Ludzer working on Judith:

Ludzer working on JudithPhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

And a rare photo of Judith and Edgar, standing side by side:

Judith and Edward are side by sidePhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

Here, the griffins are being moved into place. I can only imagine how hard it was to move these enormous beasts!

Griffins being moved into placePhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

If you look very carefully, you can see that the library is not the only thing the griffins are protecting. Look up close to see a frog:

Frog closeup black and whitePhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

 A lizard:

Lizard closeup black and whitePhotographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

A turtle:

Turtle closeup black and white

 Photographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

 A whale, a ram, a bear and more:

Whale closeup black and white
 Photographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

Edward and badger
 Photographer: Ludzer Vandermolen

There are other animal relief sculptures on the outside wall at Lillian H. Smith, including this owl, that came from the old Boys and Girls House library:

Owl relief from Pinterest

Here is where it was originally situated, at the entrance off St. George Street:

Entrance to 1964 Boys and Girls House showing owl scuplture

Other Toronto Public Library branches with feathered and furry guardians include Beaches branch, with Wordsworth the owl, also made by Mr. Vandermolen; and North York Central Library, where the lion from the Golden Lion Hotel is displayed in a glass case on the top floor.

Looking for some fun books on griffins and their relatives? Here are a few for children:

If I had a gryphon book cover

If I had a gryphon, by Vikki Van Sickle

The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor discovered a fascinating link between myth and science, by Marc Aronson

A field guide to griffins, unicorns and other mythical beasts, by Aaron Sautter

The Gargoyle on the Roof, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis

However you spell it, our beautiful, fierce griffins will continue to provide a little oasis of whimsy in the city's downtown, inspiring photographs like this one:

 Griffin photo by Brent Cehan from Flickr

Photographer: Brent Cehan

Send us a photo of your favourite library animal!