Gargoyles? Yes! And Gargoyle Calendars are for sale here, just ask!

The original buildings at The City College of New York are adorned with clay tile gargoyles. Groundbreaking took place in 1903 for the quadrangle complex of five buildings. Baskerville, Compton, Harris, and Wingate Hall are the four original buildings that occupy three sides of a plaza stepped on a West-sloping hill, anchored to the Northeast by Shepard Hall, all designed by George Brown Post in the neo-Gothic style. These five buildings opened in 1906, and the plaza dedicated in May, 1908, with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) as the featured speaker.

Harris Hall has the greatest variety of gargoyle artistic styles. Above, the faces inside floral wreaths over the North and South portals bear striking simularity to tiles produced for buildings in Chicago only a few years earlier. Compare these to numbers 13 (center in third row), 19-22 (last two of fourth row) and 24-26 (last three of last row), then you will see that the numerous styles must be attributed to individual artists plying their trade as much as an architect inspiring design.

Gargoyle, North side, Wingate Hall Gargoyle, North side, Wingate Hall

Wingate Hall on the south side of the plaza, has the least creative gargoyle set. There are four designs as two left and two right window cornice gargoyles that are repeated as alternating pairs around the building between the first and second floor.

Images 6 and 10, both of the right cornice gargoyles of Wingate Hall, are representive of employing a mass molded clay base tile of floral leaves with added central face medalion and additional attached adornment, such as left hand and right arm in the case of image 10. This tile also shows minor modifications, for example, bending of the base to accomodate the right arm placement (left side of image).

Careful examination and comparison of duplicate tiles show very minor differences, which are due to craftsman variation in assembling and joining the leather hard pre-formed clay pieces. For example, image 5 has an added left hand, image 4 has both arms applied to body, images 6 - 10 each have clay hair manually applied after each molded head was added to the base rose, or leaf tile base.

Tile molds were single piece for simple, repetative shapes, but complex detail as found on gargoyles required multi-part forms with keys to ensure registration. Complex molds were made in a long, labor intensive and time consuming multi-step process. First, a temporary, but completely worked clay sculpture was made on a wooden armature. At this point, some designs demanded that the figure be cut apart to enable mold creation or to give suitable sized tiles. Next, a quick multi-part plaster mold was made from the clay originals. These molds were used to cast final plaster masters over a ridgid hardwood armature. Each plaster master was filed and sanded to the final shape, then coated, usually with a water resistant varnish as a parting compound. The working multipart plaster molds were then cast, often repeatedly, from the master. Several of these masters, over a hundred years old, are now on display in Shepard Hall. Each is a great work of art in its own right by an unnamed artist.

Tiles were hand formed by first slip casting a thin clay layer and waiting for it to become leather hard, followed by tamping fist-sized pieces of stiff, plastic-texture clay into the plaster lined wooden box mold with a blunt wooden tool and a mallet, followed by a third, thin layer of the same clay as on the mold surface. The completed three layered clay tile was allowed to partially dry by absorbtion of more water from the clay into the plaster and stiffen enough for removal. This layered tile construction has a smooth surface for bonding to the glaze and a tougher, lower density core. The third layer of clay is necessary to control curling. Tiles, called greenware at this stage, were removed from the mold and covered with wet burlap and allowed to dry slowly indoors to minimize warpage, give even shrinkage and reduce internal stresses. Yet some shrinkage did occur, especially with gargoyles which were often made by extensive hand joining of molded parts to base tiles and have non-uniform thickness.

Greenware tiles were fired to a bisque stage at cone 06 (1830 deg F) after many weeks of drying. The clay body contained about 50% white ball clay having a high percentage of talc and fine silica sand, so no consolidation of the clay body normally occurs. Glaze was applied by dipping into a slurry of clay (maybe Bentonite), silica sand, feldspar, a whitening agent and fluxing agents (borax and zinc oxide). An example of substantial shrinkage is tile 23 located on the south side of Baskerville Hall. Note the difference in base height to the neighboring plain tile. Also note the glaze crazing at the bottom of tile 24. It is probable that this shrinkage is due to over firing, with partial vitrification of the silica in the clay body. With over-firing, microcracks can form in the clay body radiating from each silica particle because of the substantial 5% volume change of the silica passing through a transition temperature (at 1060 deg F), and results in a finished tile with the potential of future glaze crazing, shivering and increased brittleness. The dissimilar level joint between the tiles is filled with lead came pounded in place to prevent water intrusion.


All content, including images on this website, are: Copyright Thomas Legbandt 2007.
You may NOT use these images in print or web-based content without my written permission.