Guardian Lion


02Dec2015

Lions guard the NY Public Library. When they first took up their posts over a hundred years ago, they were ridiculed as mealy-mouthed and complacent. The sculptors trimmed their marble manes because people complained they were too hairy. But today they are known as NY’s most lovable public sculptures. They were designed by Edward Clark Potter, and carved from pink Tennessee marble by the Piccirilli Brothers, who also carved the contemplative Abraham Lincoln seated at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

I first visited the NY Public Library as a child with my mom, poring over old volumes in the genealogy room in a search for her ancestors. Perhaps this inspired my first job, at 13, working as a librarian. In college, I enjoyed the magic of books ferried up by elevator to the reading room where I felt I had access to a hidden world of literature. Repairs have temporarily closed the reading room, and politics have cleared many shelves of books, but fierce opposition by an army of bibliophiles has for now stopped plans to sell off some branch libraries and send millions of books into storage.

If you are in NY or planning to visit in the next month, definitely go to their exhibit, Public Eye: 175 Years of Sharing Photography. This is the first photo retrospective by the library, with a more diverse set of formats than any art museum, ranging from a coffee can designed by Ansel Adams through books, prints, ephemera, and the Instagram account of the library. You walk in through a mirror designed for taking selfies, and exit realizing that though the means of sharing has changed over the years, photography has always been a social medium.