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The Palace of Machinery
The Palace of Machinery, largest of all the structures at the Exposition, terminates the main building axis at the East. It is monumental in proportions, and is well suited to its purpose of housing an immense display of machines.
The architecture was evidently inspired by the great baths of ancient Rome, which were similar in style, size, and detail. The scale is so great - this is said to be the largest wooden building in the world - that it is something of an achievement to have made the structure anything but barn like. By the richness of the cornices and the careful spacing of the openings the architect has made it ornamental, and has given it a sort of noble dignity - though one hesitates to compare it with the palaces of the central group.
The most interesting architectural bit in connection with the Palace of Machinery is the entrance vestibule under the three central archways. Standing at either end of the portico one obtains a remarkable impression of spaciousness combined with decorative completeness. The coloring within the high vestibule is particularly pleasing.
Within the building the unconcealed trussing, instead of giving a sense of barrenness and lack of finish, resolves itself into a sort of lace-like decorative scheme, the whole effect being peculiarly ornamental.
The Palace of Machinery was designed by Clarence R. Ward.
The sculpture here consists of the series of four nude male figures on the column drums, and spandrels for the main and minor doorways, and a widely different group, "The Genius of Creation," before the main western portal. All but the latter group represent "Types of Power."
The figures surmounting columns, flanking the three arches of the central doorway, represent "Steam Power," "Invention," "Electricity," and "Imagination."
Steam is symbolized as a man holding a long lever.
Invention is represented as a man holding forth a miniature winged figure at which he gazes steadily.
The figure of Electricity holds jagged lightning, conventional symbol of electricity.
Imagination, primal power back of all machinery design, is represented by a figure with arm thrown back of head, and seemingly with eyes closed.
Considered simply as portrayals of power, these four virile figures are very successful, and they serve well to carry out the sense of immensity and strength that characterizes the entire building. But they are not at all polished or subtle, lacking the refinement that would make them interesting as something besides vigorous types. All four figures are by Haig Patigian. They are repeated in different order on columns before the north and south portals of the building.
The bas-relief friezes about the bases of the vestibule columns are also by Haig Patigian. The winged figure, typifying "Machinery," lends itself to decorative uses better than the purely human type, and the artist has worked in various mechanical symbols quite cleverly. The cardinal principle in sculptural decoration of this sort is that the frieze, like the whole column, must carry an impression of support. It will be noticed that no room has been left above the head or below the feet; and the disposition of the wings and arms further adds to the feeling that the figures are a true structural unit rather than mere ornament stuck on.
The spandrels over the minor arches in the vestibule, again typifying "Machinery," are equally successful in serving an architectural purpose. Mural sculpture, like mural painting, must never be allowed to "make a hole" in the wall. Notice how fully the figures cover the given space, without any background to draw the eye beyond the surface. These spandrels are also by Haig Patigian. The column reliefs and the spandrels are repeated at the minor doorways of the building.
The Genius of Creation, a magnificently conceived group of sculpture, has been placed, rather unfortunately, in front of the main west portal of the Palace of Machinery. It is by Daniel Chester French, who is generally considered the dean of American sculptors. The Genius of Creation is portrayed as a huge winged figure, enthroned over the formless mass of earth, with head bowed and arms outstretched, calling human life into being. At the two sides a man and a woman, fine strong figures both, stand looking forth, the man courageously, the woman a little more timidly. And at the back, as if to signify the mutual dependence of man and woman, the hands seek to touch. A serpent encircles the base of the group, symbolizing wisdom - or as some prefer to interpret it, everlasting life. This serpent is probably not the one that had so much to do with the life of the first couple on earth.
The statue expresses, of course, the orthodox idea of creation, and it is interesting to contrast it with the sculpture of the Court of Abundance, which in general gives expression to the doctrine of evolution. The strong, almost severe, motherly figure is finely religious in feeling. The sculptor himself has commented on the religious tone that runs through much of the Exposition sculpture, remarking especially the prevalence of winged angel-figures. The reader is left to decide how far this has resulted from the fact that the winged form is essentially decorative, and how far from reverence.
Viewed entirely from the aesthetic side, without regard to the symbolism, the Genius of Creation is one of the most satisfying works on the grounds. It is too bad that it was placed before a background of broken spaces, and before a colorful facade that makes it seem pale. But in it is that reposeful strength which characterizes so much of French's work - a sense of completeness, of fullness, that is perhaps the most soul-satisfying quality of great sculpture.