Not usually the sounds of silence you might expect in the library, especially in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, right? Well, all that noise is preparation for welcoming back our dancing, leaping and running cherubs, or “putti”, to the Davenport Public Library, over one hundred years after their initial arrival.
In June 1905, W. C. Putnam offered to present a Donatello frieze as a gift to the newly built Carnegie Library and the Board accepted with heartiest thanks according to the Library Board of Trustees Minutes. A frieze is a long horizontal relief or painting which is used decoratively. This particular frieze was a plaster reproduction of one designed by Donatello in the early 1400’s to decorate a cantoria, or balcony for singers, in an Italian cathedral in Florence. The piece is twenty-four feet long and about three feet high with thirty-two singing and dancing cherubs sculpted in a variety of postures.
Intended for the Children’s Room which was originally in the basement of the Carnegie, the Trustees concluded in October that the frieze should hang elsewhere. There simply wasn’t room for children, the radiator and the artwork in the basement! The local newspapers announced on November 13th that Putnam’s generous donation had been placed above the window on the north wall of the library’s auditorium. The February 8, 1906 minutes state the Grounds and Buildings Committee favored the idea of transferring the Children’s Room from the basement to the auditorium. And so, the cherubs and the children ended up together after all.
When the time came for the Carnegie building to be razed in 1966 the frieze leapt over to the Hotel Blackhawk. Now that building is undergoing renovation and the time has come for the cherubs to dance their way back to Davenport’s Main library where the frieze will again hang on the north wall, this time in the Special Collections Center. Safely packed in wooden crates, we anxiously await the big reveal when the six plaster panels are united again and Mr. Putnam’s putti can party as they please!
(Submitted by Karen)