A Field Guide to the Guardians of Downtown Mansfield

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 angels who look down on Park Avenue West from the Richland Trust Building, were given their charge in 1929 when the bank was built.  Designated as angels of ‘Increase,’ their talents saw Mansfield through the Great Depression handily enough that the bank never failed to keep its doors open, during those hard times when so many others closed.

The three angels of Park Avenue West can be seen hovering 25 feet above traffic, positioned above and between the south-facing windows.

An angel is intended to represent benevolent forces embodied into more or less visible human form.  Angels are often depicted with wings, to indicate their ethereal nature as messengers between the unseen world and the manifest, physical plane we inhabit.  Angels of some form or variation play a role in every major Earth religion.
Each of the angels watching over Park Avenue West holds a deceptively modest cornucopia: an ancient symbol of abundance, of ever-renewing providence and sustenance

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 was placed originally in the center of the Square, which was the center of town, which was perfectly centered in the original boundaries of Richland County.  As such, it couldn’t have been more ideally emblematic of the life force that flowed forth from the land on which we live, and the Earth from which we spring.

And as such, it may not be inappropriate to note that the generation during which the fountain did not flow in Central Park, were the very decades when Mansfield saw its economic prospects flat line.

Interestingly enough, that was the year when the Miss Ohio Pageant returned to town, and the ancient ladies who grace our Central Park have been available to the parade passing by every year to offer tips to the young contestants about grace, jollity, abundance, splendor and the great selfless gift of youth.

In 1959 a road was paved through the Public Square, and the fountain was hauled off to Malabar Farm where the Graces rusted under the willows beside a bluegill pond.  In 1979 the fountain was restored to the Square.

The Graces are personifications of grace, beauty and joy, and represent individually: jollity, abundance, and splendor.  All in all, they are not a bad set of sweethearts to grace the center of town. 

They are most often depicted– in countless paintings and sculptures spanning more than a thousand years– without any clothing whatsoever.  It is plain to guess why, in 1881 in Mansfield, Ohio, the Grace sisters came to town dressed in voluminous nighties that look to be made of tent canvas.

As it happens, Greek and Roman mythologies are loaded with goddesses that come in threes.  Having evolved through popular imagination over eons from primitive times, mythologists believe them to have been in threes as representing three phases of the moon: waxing, full and waning.

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.

Our resident immortals were cast in bronze, and came to town from Mt. Olympus by way of New York, where they took their cast form at the foundries of the J.L. Mott Company, who were known to spread similar guardians all around the village greens of America.  

For at least one generation, the mythic characters of the Square were painted with skin tones and colorful gowns, as seen in this photo from 1913.

From her humble beginnings in Ancient Greece, the character of Hebe found a home in cultures around the world, especially in America of the 1800s.  Traditionally depicted holding some form of water urn, ewer, or vessel, she is a natural subject for interpretation in fountain art.

A woman carrying a water jug is one of the oldest images in the world, seen in every culture of the globe.  Her embodiment of abundance and everlasting nourishment is seen characterized in one of the most ancient symbolic mythologies in the world: the celestial zodiac.  She is known as Aquarius– the Water Bearer.

The constellation Aquarius encapsulates in mythic form one of the most primal mysteries of Earth: the everlasting pouring forth of life.  Mythologists believe that the Water Bearer was named such because the constellation marks the time during the calendar year when the annual flooding of the Nile took place in ancient Egypt.

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.

The Renaissance was built originally as the Ohio Theater, designed by Nicoli Petti (1880-1929), whose other ornate movie houses in Ohio were built in Toledo, Lorain, Akron and Cleveland.  Born in Italy, Petti immigrated not only himself and his native architectural forms to this country, but also the classical mascaron he knew as a child.

Our Cherub heads were designed by Edward Eichenbaum (1894-1982), an architect from Cleveland who was a friend of Nicoli Petti. Here is another of the Cherubs he sculpted, who is clearly a relative of our Mansfield Cherubim, photographed at the Granada Theater in Chicago.

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.

The faces that appeared in Gothic architecture, as it evolved in Medieval Europe, were decorations added to keystones, capitals, corbels and similar features that were essential to the structural stability of the building.  Yet this face carved on Park Avenue West, occupies an odd place on the wall that is artificially emphasized at the bottom of a false pilaster, obviously created for one purpose only: simply to show off this whimsical face.

A portrait of the church made by the architects upon the building’s completion.

Interestingly enough, the architects who created the guardian spirits on the Park Avenue Baptist Church in 1928, were the same artists who designed the Richland Savings Bank building on the Square that also has guardian angels overlooking the street: Althouse & Jones, of Mansfield OH.

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