NYPL’s Lions Get a Makeover

Patience and Fortitude, the iconic New York Public Library lions, have been taking a couple of spa months. Today they emerged from their plywood scaffolding after being cleaned, repaired, and conserved.

NYPL lion sculpture under scaffolding
Photo and video by Jonathan Blanc / NYPL

Patience and Fortitude, the iconic New York Public Library lions, have been taking a couple of spa months. Today they emerged from their plywood scaffolding after being cleaned, repaired, and conserved.

The lions require conservation approximately every ten years, as the Tennessee pink marble from which they’re carved is porous, and susceptible to snow, rain, wind, and traffic exhaust over time. This was their first conservation since 2011.

Earlier this year the statues were assessed by WJE Engineers and Architects, which determined that they needed laser cleaning and repairs to minor cracks and chips. Plywood enclosures were built around each statue at the beginning of September, and over the next nine weeks the two were given the full beauty treatment by Integrated Conservation Contracting—cleaning, filling cracks with grout, and reinforcing any previous repairs (see the time-lapse video below).

 

 

 The $270,000 project was funded by a grant from the New York Life Foundation and donations from hundreds of New Yorkers.

“Patience and Fortitude, the New York Public Library's famed marble lions, have become iconic symbols that represent the bravery required to get through challenging times and the gateway to information and education, which has helped build brighter futures for millions of people from around the world,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation. “We see our support as more than simply a restoration but rather a celebration of our nearly 80-year partnership and all that the library represents to visitors near and far.”

The statues have been the face of NYPL for more than a century, flanking the front steps of the 42nd Street main branch since it opened in 1911. New York natives, they were carved in the Bronx studios of the Piccirilli Brothers and named by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia during the Depression; New Yorkers needed “patience and fortitude” to survive difficult times, he said.

"Patience and Fortitude stand strong on Fifth Avenue all day, every day to welcome all to the library and ensure everyone has access to knowledge and opportunity. It's not an easy job—they face bad weather, car exhaust, and a myriad of other challenges. Like the New Yorkers they are, they are tough and handle it all, but every ten years or so it is important that they get a spa treatment," said NYPL senior director of facilities operations Gerry Olivia, who managed the project. "We are so proud of this project to ensure that they are as grand as they were in 1911, and in the best possible shape to continue inspiring the masses."   

“It is our responsibility to be great stewards of our beloved, noble lions and ensure that they are in the best possible condition to inspire the public now and for generations to come,” said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx. “Thanks to this project, they are back to being the true kings of this city.”

Patience and Fortitude are now ready to serve as welcoming hosts for NYPL’s annual Library Lions fundraising gala on November 4, and will don their annual holiday wreaths later this month. The wreaths, custom made for the library lions, contain no metal that could rust or scratch them, and don’t retain water—so the two can hold onto that fresh-scrubbed glow for many more years.

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor, News for Library Journal.

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