Clements Library Facade Bas Reliefs

Probably designed by Albert Kahn
1922-23; Limestone; Architectural Feature
Central Campus; South facade, Clements Library

Two inscriptions (either side of entrance loggia) were written by U-M professor Ulrich B. Phillips: “In darkness dwells the people which knows its annals not” and “Tradition fades but the written record remains ever fresh.” The medallions inside the loggia show the coat of arms for U-M, Columbus, and supposedly George Washington. But a quirky error resulted in the shield of ancient Scottish kings, rather than Washington’s. “It happened thusly. Mr. Kahn picked out the correct shield in a book of heraldry and designated that the work should be done from this picturization. But somewhere along the production line a slip occurred. Someone turned a couple of pages and copied what was there displayed. The work was completed. Mr. Clements and Mr. Randolph Adams, director of the Library, discovered the error. But for fear of hurting Mr. Kahn’s feelings and because no one else had noted the error, nothing was done at the time. Mr. Kahn was inordinately, and rightly, proud of the William L. Clements Library building. He is credited with making the statement that he desired most of all to be known as the architect of this building. It was his masterpiece. As the years went by the difficulty of calling the matter to his attention increased. Mr. Clements died without suggesting that any change be made. So it was left just as it was produced originally. And there it is today. The Scottish kings are memorialized in stone on the William L. Clements Library. The heraldry experts of future years will wonder and they each will make the inquiry and they will be told the story.” Figures of angels appear on either side of the panel in the parapet which bears the name WILLIAM L. CLEMENTS LIBRARY.