I used a part of my lunch break while on Jury duty to explore the grounds of the Rockland County Courthouse, a limestone art deco structure dating to 1928.
The main stair hall and foyer to the courtrooms are detailed with bas relief sculpture, painting, and lighting fixtures in carved stone, glass and bronze. The vocabulary of the decorative program is neoclassic crossed with biomorphic art deco; lots of swirly foliate forms in amongst the zigzagging geometry. The top of the stair has two large bronze and glass torchieres on coffee colored marble plinths.
The walls have matching sconces. And the ceiling has a huge gilded and painted zodiac surrounding a river valley (the Hudson presumably) scene, all flanked by eagles holding the scales of justice, surmounting fasces… whew.
I wonder who wrote the sculptor’s brief and what a laundry list of points it contained.
The doors to this area are locked from the main entrance; one accesses the space through the 2nd floor of the 2001 addition. However, if you walk around to the exterior of the main façade, you’re treated to more sculptural metalwork. There are many lovely examples of grillework around the building, both in wrought iron and nickeled bronze, as well the three pairs of double doors on the main façade.
These doors have very bold wrought iron work, especially the ribbons in the lower sections, and overlapping wreathes of laurel that climb to the axe-head details in the top panel.
This axe-head detail, perhaps an emblem of justice (though that’s just a guess) is repeated in the window guards you can see below the small grille pictured below.
The main event, lighting-wise on the exterior are the two massive pier lights on granite bases. Though these appear to be patinated bronze, the green is simply paint. These are made of cast iron.
The tops are tiered, cascading, waterfalls over the octagonal lantern body. That, along with much scrolling, foliate, icicled, ribbed, and otherwise decorative stuff is supported on four base-and-capital-less fluted columns, and furthermore on an octagonal base supported by four resolute looking turtles.
It just so happened that I was walking past the 5th avenue and 42nd St. branch of the New York Public Library late last night and happened to notice the same beasts supporting the flagpole there. Coincidence… conspiracy…? Perhaps there’s some iconographic significance to the turtle (long life? slow pace?)
No description of the decorative arts and sculpture of the Rockland County Courthouse would be complete without a mention of the sculpture commissioned for the 1987 rededication of the building (in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the US constitution.) I met a woman while on jury duty in this building 10 years ago who was commissioned to write a poem for the occasion, which was also enlivened by the unveiling of a new sculpture that was under wraps until the beginning of the ceremony. She described a hush that fell over the crowd when she got on the podium to read her poem and the wraps fell away from the new sculpture. The assembled citizens, town politicos, and various random dignitaries were left publicly applauding the sculpture. I leave it to your own imagination to imagine what they thought of its shape.
I only wish it was made of a better material than concrete. It is not aging as well as it might if it was made of one of the classics like limestone, marble, or bronze.