For nearly 115 years, they have quietly guarded the University of Kansas from their seventh-floor perch.
Now, four of the hand-carved grotesques lining the façade of Dyche Hall are being taken down to make way for brand-new replicas. Staff at the KU Natural History Museum say the mythical beasts have become irreparable after years of erosion and on Friday will be relocated to their new posts inside the museum’s panorama gallery.
“What’s fantastic is that no one has been able to see them up close and personal since 1903, for 114 years,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, both located inside Dyche Hall.
“And now for the first time, the public will be able top see these grotesques displayed in the panorama gallery in their current condition,” he added. “Which unfortunately is a far cry from their original pristine condition because of 114 years of erosion through Kansas wind, water and snow.”
The grotesques, designed by artist Joseph Frazee around the turn of the 20th century and hand-carved out of soft sandstone, are not unlike the gargoyles (like grotesques, but with waterspouts) found in Europe’s great cathedrals. They’re iconic to Dyche Hall and KU, Krishtalka said, and that’s why he and other museum staffers want them preserved for future generations.
The creatures’ replacement is part of a $4.2 million renovation funded by the state of Kansas, the KU Natural History Museum announced Wednesday. Projects include cleaning and repairing the building’s exterior stonework, replacing the roof, windows and internal walls, and installing a new HVAC system on the seventh floor.
A request for bids on the grotesque replicas is on its way, said Krishtalka, who estimates costs for replacing the statues will land in the six-figure range. The museum launched a fundraising campaign for the project Wednesday, with Krishtalka happily contributing the first $500, he said.
He hopes others in the KU and Lawrence communities will join in the efforts. All are welcome to watch Friday morning at 8 a.m. when crews go about removing the grotesques and installing one or two inside the museum.
Four more grotesques on the building’s east side will be taken down later this fall and added to the display. Originally, there were 12 grotesques adorning Dyche Hall — four were removed during construction on the building's 1963 addition, with one disappearing along the way. The remaining three were restored and now reside in the museum's sixth floor administrative offices.
“We don’t know what the inspiration was for the grotesques, but not unlike grotesques that adorn the world-famous museums and churches in Europe, in London and Paris and Berlin and Leningrad and Munich, these grotesques are fantastic beasts,” Krishtalka said.
So, too, is the Jayhawk. KU’s appreciation for mythical creatures has perhaps contributed to the grotesques’ long and enduring lives at the university, Krishtalka points out.
Many of the grotesques even have KU symbols, such as “Rock Chalk” and an alternative spelling of Jayhawk, carved into them.
“Each one is a work of art, and collectively they form this fantastic mythological menagerie that is uniquely American, uniquely Kansan and uniquely KU,” Krishtalka said. “It’s our own mythology.”
To donate to the museum’s grotesque replacement project, visit www.biodiversity.ku.edu.