Library of Congress Adams Building: Lawrie Doors – Washington DC

Project type: Art, Sculpture and Bas Relief
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Description

The doors at the main (west) entrance and side (south) entrances to the John Adams Building of the Library of Congress are magnificent cast bronze works by sculptor Lee Lawrie. Lawrie was probably America’s foremost architectural sculptor of the time, with works at Rockefeller Center and across the country.

The Lawrie Doors appear to have been commissioned by the Office of the Capitol along with the rest of the building and installed as the building was completed in 1939. The exact date of their casting is unknown to us.

For the three front doors to the Adams Building, Lawrie cast three bas-relief figures into each of the door panels, 18 in all.  The figures are all deities or cultural heroes associated with the origins of the written word:

  • Hermes, the messenger of the gods
  • Odin, a Norse/Germanic god and creator of the runic alphabet
  • Ogma, the Irish god who invented the Gaelic alphabet
  • Itzamna, a Mayan god of writing
  • Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of writing
  • Sequoyah, a Native American who defined Cherokee syllabary
  • Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, serving as the divine scribe
  • Cangjie, the legendary inventor of Chinese writing
  • Nabu, an Akkadian god of writing
  • Brahma, an Indian god
  • Cadmus, Greek sower of dragon’s teeth and importer of the Phoenician alphabet
  • Tahmurath, a Persian hero

On the south entrance doors, Lawrie cast a male figure representing physical labor and a female figure representing intellectual labor. 

The entrances to the John Adams Building were modified in 2013 with the addition of sculpted bronze and glass doors that mirror the original door sculptures, done by the Washington Glass Studio and Fireart Glass.  

Today, the Lawrie doors are left open permanently, so they appear as side panels in the entrance alcoves.

 

Source notes

Project originally submitted by Richard A Walker on February 4, 2020.

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