This is how it works all over the world:
A) People (humans) are made of flesh and blood, so they come and go throughout the generations of our history; but there are values, motivations and emotions that transcend the limitations of such temporal material lifetimes.
B) Often these values, motivations and emotions become translated into symbols and symbolic forms in ways that can communicate their message beyond the scope of language;
C) and sometimes these symbols are embodied as myths and mythic characters so as to pass the values to new generations encoded into stories.
And then, if we’re lucky,
D) these characters are carved into stone and iron so the characters and the values they represent can stay on the timeline of history longer than the lifespan of ordinary mortals.
Each of these stone characters becomes a kind of guardian: ensuring that deep human values are presented to each succeeding generation of society.
Mansfield has several of these guardians. This brief Field Guide identifies the ones that can be found downtown today.
The Angels of Park Avenue West
In 1929, the Richland Trust Building changed the skyline of downtown Mansfield forever by rising nine stories above the Square. Though the skyscraper was destined to provide office space for many dozens of businesses and law firms throughout the decades, the imposing landmark was designed for, and intended to inspire confidence in the city for, its one primary resident: the Richland Savings Bank.
Architects of the building wanted to encode into its very design this sense of security.
If there is one symbolic image in Western culture through the centuries that has served to inspire the sense of safety, well-being, protection and abundance: it is the angel. Look closely at the south-facing wall of Richland Bank to find Mansfield’s guardian angels who have been watching over the city for 90 years.
The Graces on the Square
The landmark fountain on the Square in Mansfield presents four mythological characters who serve as guardians of the public green: three of them stand together on the first tier, and one rises alone surmounting the waterfall. The group of three come to our town from the culture of ancient Greece.
There are a number of Greek goddesses who travel in threes, including the Hours, the Fates, and the Furies. Mansfield’s female trio verify for us their identity through the symbolic items they hold in their hands: a cornucopia, a vase, and a twine of roses. By this we recognize these sisters as Thalia, Euphrosyne, and Aglaca…better known as The Graces.
We call them The Graces, but their ancient homeland culture referred to each of them as a ‘Charis;’ a word that translates to both Grace, and ‘Gift.’ From this comes our word ‘charity.’ To have grace is a gift, and it is a gift to all who encounter it.
The Graces, while they have names and specific attributes, are more specifically indicative of the ‘power of gift’ emanating to the world: a gift comes to you without thought of recompense, just as the life force itself provided to you from the Source of Life, which is the continual outpouring of energy sustaining our very being.
The Graces on the Square are here to remind us at all times that life is a gift.
In our community, the city’s fountain itself represents the spring of water pouring forth from the Earth to sustain people, animals and crops.
The Fountain of Youth
At the top of the fountain is a different character from Greek mythology who imparts a different sense of guardianship in the Public Square. She holds an urn high over her head, from which springs the fountain of water cascading down. Her name is Hebe, whose name in Greek means ‘youth’ or ‘prime of life.’ In Roman mythology, her name is ‘Juventas,’ from the same root that we get the word juvenile: so she brings to our city the eternal springs of hope that come with youth, and ever-renewing innocence.
When the fountain was first placed in the Square in 1881, the sculptors of the figures were very much aware of Hebe’s role in Greek mythology as cupbearer to the gods on Olympus: the one who served the drinks. As such, her presence downtown was specifically intended as a “temperance fountain,” insuring public sobriety in the drinks she served as suitable for polite society.
Cherubim at the Renaissance Theatre
On the front of the Renaissance Theatre are two very small guardians of the highest order. Their sweet little faces designate them into the special realm of angels known as Cherubs. The Cherubim are found in symbolic representation as early the Bronze Age, and are defined in Judeo-Christian literatures as the original guardians of the Garden of Eden.
These little guys are known as ‘mascaron,’ a kind of sculptural ornament in architecture in the shape of a human or animal head. Originally developed in European Gothic architecture, they were supposed to scare away evil spirits, so they were place quite visibly above doorways.
When our theater was built on Park Avenue in 1927-28, the building was intended to bring a new level of cultural sophistication to the Mansfield street scene, by interpreting classic European architecture into 20th century revival styles.
Our mascaron on Park Avenue West are a couple of sweet and benign guardians, who repel evil spirits not by presenting a frightening face, but rather through their purity and wholesome cherubic innocence.
Androgynous, Not Impersonal Guardians
The other stone guardians to look for on Park Avenue West, peer down from the front of the old Park Avenue Baptist Church, known today as Mosaic.
Built at the corner of PAW and Benton Street in 1928, the classic landmark is in the style of English Gothic architecture from Medieval times.
Faces sculpted of stone in Gothic architecture do not always necessarily represent any particular identity of mythology or symbolism, but were created for the purpose of putting a human, personalizing aspect into a place that might otherwise seem cold, abstract or perhaps overwhelming.
These three observers who gaze upon the traffic of Mansfield, seem to be some sort of limestone Earth Elemental spirits, with enough of that inscrutable slow stone patience it takes to overlook the parade of variable humanity passing below for the last 90 years.