Grotesque Masque for Fountain (as listed by Agnes Allen)
Roman and Greek mythology and art is rich with the folklore of satyrs, fauns and sprites. Descriptions vary according to the country of origin and the time period, but generally speaking, they are part human and part animal with pointed ears and horns of some kind. Sprites tended to be more like fairies whereas Satyrs and Fauns were some combination of a man and either a goat or a horse. They were fertility spirits found in woodlands or in mountain wilds as companions to Dionysus or Pan.
Allen must have been intrigued by the stories, perhaps because he could be mischievous himself. There are four examples of these creatures in his oeuvre, Moon Sprite, Pan Birdbath and two very different Satyr Fountain Masques. This Satyr is the most threatening and devilish, clearly having the large pointed ears of a goat and ridged curled horns. The eyes are slanted as they were depicted of old. The nose has been fitted with a ring in the form of a pair of hinged semicircles, permanently installed with the hinge bolt broken off. Such rings were used to control animals dating back to the earliest recorded civilizations. His face is hairless, but the split nose and upper lip are clearly that of a goat.
Compositionally, the major repeating element is the arc. The theme is stated by the dominating curve of the ridged horns. They emanate from the center of the forehead in the parallel lines of the top and bottom edges, arching away from the brow, higher than the curved skull of the head like a crown and curl around to bring the energy forward in a point under the ears. The s-shaped curve of the top of the large ears tucks up under the upward arc of the horns and turn downward and outward. The horns wrap around them, ending in an upward arc next to the face. As the outline of the face narrows from the ears to the chin, the double arcs of the nose ring bring the dominant theme to the center, repeating the curve of the horns, and joining the arcs in a circle from where it pierces the nose to where the hinge anchors at the point of the chin.
The quiet planes of the face at the center balance the busyness of the details of the horns and ears around it. The cheeks are smooth. A flattened bridge of the nose ends in a split tip and lip which flows outward into the flattened strap of the mustache. The parallel edges of that element, like the horns above, continue the theme of the arc, forming the mouth and the opening for water to spout in another arc. The slanted eyes and the nostrils follow similar lines, all of the differing sizes of the arcs weaving in and out of each other.
The masque was installed in an arched brick niche in the back wall of the outdoor courtyard of Allen’s Tavern Road Studio, used as a fountain designed so that the water spurted from his mouth, through the nose ring and into a pool of water beneath. As Laurel Beetham described it in her college paper,
“On the right side of the building Mr. Allen built a courtyard. Rhododendron were placed on each side of the door leading out to it, and along a sapling fence on the opposite side. At the rear of the courtyard an arbor was built of brick. The metal head of a devil [satyr] was rigged to spout water into a pond below. On each side of the arches of the arbor, niches went back into the brick walls [and] held statuettes and plants. Above, a mass of Concord grapes came to grow. In later years giant snapping turtles which Mr. Allen placed in the pond discouraged neighborhood children from picking the clusters of grapes.”
The photographs shown here, both wet and dry to accentuate the details, were taken in the North Haven boathouse where the masque was being stored in the sleeping loft in a wooden box filled with excelsior. The property was rented in the summer when the masque disappeared and has not been seen again.
Allen’s small personal courtyard followed the Italian Renaissance style of his Studio. A geometric shape organized the space with terraced levels approached by steps. Walls created order and contained niches for decorative sculpture and for this fountain piece. Controlled plantings provided greenery and a natural element to soften the geometry. Steps from the house looked down into the garden and a grape arbor sheltered a sitting area. A Renaissance garden would be lost without a water feature with the trickling fountain providing a sense of peace and a lovely natural sound, the whole separated from the bustle of the outside world. Here birds and turtles would wander and bathed while students and friends would gather to socialize.