This capital, one of six owned by the Museum, once graced the ground-level storefront of the Bayard-Condict Building, the only structure in New York City designed by the renowned architect Louis H. Sullivan. Completed in 1899, the thirteen-story commercial building boasted a façade featuring an exuberant array of terracotta embellishment in the form of angels, lions, and plant life. With their spiraling, vine-like tendrils entwined with leaves, these capitals typify Sullivan’s unique vocabulary of organic ornament, which was akin to Art Nouveau but more directly inspired by his analytical study of botanical forms.
Once hailed by critics as the most important structure in the city, by 1964 the building was seen as an aged commercial property on a shabby street. During two unfortunate renovations—the last of which replaced the original ground-floor storefront with a new granite and aluminum façade—the capitals were first covered over, then removed and salvaged by architectural preservationists, who assisted in their relocation to the Brooklyn Museum. In 2002, the façade was restored to its original appearance with capitals reconstructed by Boston Valley Terra Cotta.
This ferocious creature was one of a trio of rearing lions that originally pulled a chariot atop the entrance pavilion to the giant El Dorado Carousel at Coney Island. Germany’s leading amusement-ride manufacturer, Hugo Haase of Leipzig, built the spectacular carousel in 1902 for Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany and king of Prussia. In 1910 it was imported by Coney Island empresario George Tilyou and installed near the Dreamland amusement park, at West Fifth Street and Surf Avenue. Though only one of several independent carousels at Coney Island, the El Dorado was, according to carousel expert Frederick Fried, “the most ornate, most publicized, and one of the largest” in America.
The elaborate entrance was decorated with life-size statues, all made of formed sheet zinc and painted in bright colors; women in diaphanous gowns played musical instruments or danced through the clouds while St. George slew his dragon atop the end niches. The chariot, the largest and most elaborate figural group, surmounted the central entrance. Research has determined that the Museum’s lion may have originally been painted a gold color with bronze metallic paint. Only its head and front paws have survived through the years.
The carousel and its entrance pavilion were relocated several times and eventually separated. The latter was dismantled in 1964. The carousel is still in use at the Toshimaen Amusement Park in Tokyo.
Perhaps no American symbol is more widely recognized or powerfully expressive than Liberty Enlightening the World—the Statue of Liberty, erected on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor in 1885. This thirty-foot replica was commissioned around 1900 by the Russian-born auctioneer William H. Flattau to sit atop his eight-story Liberty Warehouse, then one of the highest points on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Flattau combined his entrepreneurial spirit with pride in the adopted country in which he had prospered.
The sculpture was likely manufactured by W.H. Mullins of Salem, Ohio, which specialized in monumental statues made of sheet metal over iron or copper skeletons. Figures of this size were often commissioned to decorate the entrances or rooflines of public buildings; in the late nineteenth century, cast zinc and sheet metals began to replace bronze because of their affordability.
A popular fixture of the Upper West Side for more than a century, the statue was removed in 2002 when the warehouse was sold and renovated for use as an apartment building.
Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden
Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden, 1st Floor
The Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden, formerly the Frieda Schiff Warburg Memorial Sculpture Garden, was created in 1966 as a space to display objects from our pioneering collection of architectural sculptures rescued from New York City demolition sites. This remarkable collection, largely composed of works by anonymous craftsmen dating to the period between 1880 and 1910, presents a sampling of architectural ornament characteristic of buildings still standing in the older parts of New York City. Some of the objects are carved limestone, brownstone, granite, or marble; some are metal. Many others are cast terracotta, a hard-fired clay that was widely used for urban architectural ornament, especially after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 caused builders to embrace inexpensive fireproof materials.
The collection offers varied examples of the forms created to enrich the facades of residential and commercial buildings. Scrolls and garlands, fruit and flowers, cornucopias and shells, and geometric and foliate patterns abound, as do human and animal forms and fantastic creatures. This exuberant imagery was drawn from nature but often abstracted into patterns for ease of duplication and then further simplified into architectural units such as keystones, friezes, moldings, lunettes, and plaques.
Much of the work was executed by anonymous stone carvers, mostly immigrant workers from the United Kingdom and, later, Italy who traveled from building site to building site. By the turn of the century, however, a large portion of this work would no longer be done by hand, as factory-produced terracotta tiles replaced most of the hand-carved stonework on New York buildings. A number of the objects in the collection were also designed by well-known artists and architects, including Louis Sullivan; McKim, Mead & White; Irwin S. Chanin; and Gutzon Borglum.
The Sculpture Garden was changed significantly in 2000 at the time of major relandscaping around the south entrance of the building. It was rededicated as the Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden in 2004, with the addition of the Replica of the Statue of Liberty. More objects from the collection will be added to the installation at a later date. In 2003, our Eastern Parkway entrance and the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum subway stop were renovated, and sixty terracotta keystones, lunettes, tiles, and plaques formerly in our collection were installed on the walls of the subway station with beautiful mosaic borders. The redesign, overseen by the MTA’s Arts for Transit program, provided an excellent opportunity to display historic New York architectural ornament outside the Museum’s boundaries.