The lions that you see guarding the front entryway of the Fairbanks Museum have been in place since September 1894. They were designed and created in the studio of O. Andreoni in Rome, Italy, the same artist who produced a bust of Franklin Fairbanks and his father, Erastus, which are in the museum.
Did you notice that the lions are in different positions and appear to have different personalities? The story that has been told about these lions explaining this difference was first recorded in the Caledonian-Record. According to Fairbanks family lore, when Franklin Fairbanks visited Andreoni’s studio in 1893 he was accompanied by his daughter, Ellen who was 21. He asked her if she liked the lion that had been completed, and she replied that she did not, that he was too “fierce and cross.” So, Franklin Fairbanks requested changes to the second lion to reflect a more relaxed and friendlier pose. The result is a unique pair of sculptures that welcomes guests to the Museum.
In addition to a legacy of lions with personality, this tale shows a heartwarming, personal side of the Fairbanks family. Even today, we’re greeted by lions whose attitudes reflect the questioning nature of the museum’s founder … and his willingness to listen to the women in his life!
Our lions are cast in bronze, one of the most popular materials for sculpture of every size. Bronze is an alloy made of copper and tin that is popular for several reasons, including the patinas that it can take on when it is exposed to outdoor elements. Other significant reasons for choosing bronze include that it has a high tensile strength (resistance to breaking under tension) and it flows more easily into molds than pure copper.
While Orazio Andreoni was the sculptor who created the lions, Oscar Spalmach was the founder who actually cast them in Andreoni’s studio. Spalmach was not just a founder, but an accomplished artist in his own right. Born in Venice, he studied there at the Royal Institute of Fine Arts after serving in the military. These lions were one of the first commissions he worked on after completing his arts training in 1892. He began working in Andreoni’s studio in 1893, the year these lions were begun, and would work there for the next ten years.
Orazio Andreoni was a successful, well respected, and fairly prolific artist. He established an international reputation, often focusing on historical and biblical subjects. His work can now be found in many museums around the world, including the Fairbanks Museum.
In addition to the two bronze lions in front of the museum, there are three other sculptures in our collections representing Franklin Fairbanks, the museum’s founder, his father, Erastus, and his grandson, Paul Herrick.
These three white marble busts grace the entryway and lower landing of our main gallery. The bust of Franklin was created sometime between the museum’s opening in 1891 and the death of Frances Fairbanks (Franklin’s wife) in 1895. The pedestal on which it stands is decorated with a plaque reading “Presented by the wife and daughters of the founder.”
The bust of Paul Herrick was done when he was a young child, circa 1891. It is placed above the interior doorway to our main gallery.
The likeness of Erastus is the hardest to date exactly, but portrays this former governor and president of the Fairbanks Scale Company in his later years of life. It was most likely completed in the late 1880s or early 1890s like the others.
These fine statues compliment the artistry of many others whose works continue to resonate in the Museum. The investment in exceptional talents — from carpentry to cast bronze — gives our collections their timeless value.
Our iconic bronze lions stand guard all day, every day, covered with rain, snow, hail, and blazing sun. They are loved by neighbors and remembered by visitors. But they have never been named! These brave beasts need a little love, and we want to show them how much we care. You can help conserve the lions and give each lion a name.
How many of you have pictures of your children (or yourself) seated on the reclining or the growling lion?
Make your gift of $50 or more for a chance to name the lions. We’ll draw a name for each lion on June 15.
As we care for our lions, we’re grateful for the fine artistry and exquisite craft that went into their creation. Here’s a short film about what’s involved in casting a bronze sculpture using techniques that would have been applied in Andreoni’s studio.