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If you take a minute to look skyward when you’re walking around Detroit, you may find someone peering back. Many of the city’s architectural marvels are graced with gargoyles, grotesques and other evocative carvings — way more than you’d expect.
You can get a closer look in Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City, a book released this month by Wayne State University Press. In it, historian and photographer Jeff Morrison has created an overwhelming compendium of the faces that adorn more than 150 buildings and structures. While Detroit’s architecture greats have gotten their due, Morrison has done an impressive job diving into construction history to identify the carvers and craftsmen that often toiled in obscurity (aka, the contract workers of yesteryear).
Morrison credits the wealth of architectural carvings in part to an intersection of urban growth and art history — in the 1920s, Detroit added more than 500,000 residents, leading to a flurry of development. That period was ripe for ornate flourishes on all those new buildings, thanks to popular architectural styles like Beaux-Arts, Gothic and Romanesque Revival, Art Moderne and Art Deco.
Many of those buildings are still standing, though others have been demolished. One building Morrison documented, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, was torn down since he started the project.
In hundreds and hundreds of photos, he’s captured the mischievous creatures that you wouldn’t always notice and might even need binoculars to see, like in the case of the Fisher Building, which has more than 150 carvings on its face. Which leaves us wondering: what might these ancient, all-seeing eyes have witnessed as Detroiters obliviously carry on about their business at street level? You might not notice them, but they’re watching you… and they know what you did.
These celestial beings aren’t mad, just disappointed that you walked your dog without picking up his poop.
This lady is sick of hearing dudes catcall women from their cars.
This pelican can’t count how many times he’s seen someone park on the QLine track.
This wise owl saw you on SnapChat when you should have been in class.
This grotesque hopes he’ll never see another drunk reveler stumbling around and littering on Opening Day.
Neptune and his mustachioed fish weren’t fooled when you drank alcohol out of a water bottle at Belle Isle Beach.
This gargoyle rolls his eyes each time he catches a driver blowing through a red light.
Author Jeff Morrison will be talking about his work and signing books at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch this Saturday, March 30. He’s got several other appearances coming up around the metro area through June.