The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article on July 26, 2015, talking about the R. W. Ayer building in Philadelphia. In particular, they were talking about a bas-relief sculpture that adorns the doors to the building. Created in 1929 by Ralph Bencker, and sculpted by J. Wallace Kelly and Raphael Sabatini, the work is a beautiful representation of the architecture of the late 1920’s. At the top of the doors is a three-part frieze, which you can see while standing outside.
The left-most part is an image of an open book, which Bencker explained stands for Truth. At the center, a large, radiating sun glows between a writer and an artist. Finally, the right-most image is of a flying bird, which implies that advertising is a good way to spread a message. I should note that, back in the 1920’s, advertising was seen in a much more positive light than it is today.
When I read this article, I was struck by one line, where Bencker explained the book on the left stands for Truth. Wouldn’t you say a book stands for, say, knowledge? Or learning? But to say Truth, that’s an odd word to apply to a book. And so it got me thinking. What if he wasn’t saying the “open book” stands for Truth, but rather that the “open Book” (as in Bible) stands for Truth?
If you accept that interpretation, the three-panel frieze takes on a different meaning altogether. Then the book, now The Book, implies the Word of God. John 1:1 says clearly that the Word represents Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A little later on, in John 14:6, Jesus Himself says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The middle panel then, showing a large sun shining down on a writer and an artist, both creative professions, can be seen as God himself. One of the first words in the Bible is “created.” Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God has always been seen as a creator, and this is a perfect illustration. Another Bible verse that supports God being represented as light would be from Malachi 4:2 “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”
Finally, the third panel, the flying bird, surely can be seen as the Holy Spirit, who is the action part of the Trinity. It is the Holy Spirit that drives us on in our service to God.
Of course, Mr. Bencker may never have meant any of that, but his choice of the word “truth” is, in my view, very telling. And art at its core is primarily what the viewer sees and feels, isn’t it?
I’d love to know what you think!