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Narrow, two-story brick building with facade featuring oversize figures and a clock

Sir John Bennett. / THF17783

For decades, Sir John Bennett's shop—with its figures of mythological giants Gog and Magog—has intrigued and enthralled Greenfield Village's visitors. Prior to 1930, the jewelry and clock shop was a popular presence many thousands of miles away in London, where its animated giants chimed the quarter-hours above the busy thoroughfare of Cheapside.

While London and Dearborn would seem to have little in common, Gog and Magog—if they could talk, as well as chime—might disagree. Exposure to the weather has been a continuous element in their over 125 years of timekeeping in both England and America. Climate has taken its toll on the figures. So, during the winter of 2005–2006, The Henry Ford undertook an extensive restoration of the Sir John Bennett figures.

Clock Figures


This was not the first time that the figures, or "jacks," as they are known in the world of clocks, had been given a thorough restoration. When Henry Ford originally brought them to the United States in 1931, he had them repaired and repainted. A second restoration and repainting took place in the 1970s.


Statue base and sculpted feet of very cracked wood
Pre-restoration deterioration on the feet of one of the carved wooden figures.

The 2005–2006 restoration, in addition to reversing damage and safeguarding Gog and Magog for future generations, also offered an opportunity to attempt to determine what the wooden figures originally looked like. Deeply carved recesses were carefully excavated in order to discover clues to the original color scheme. Conservators also studied a similar set of Gog and Magog figures in London's Guildhall; a set in Melbourne, Australia; and many historical prints and illustrations to compare our paint analysis with other known examples.

One finding was that the giants' chain mail had, at some point, been painted the color of their clothing. The chain mail is now painted to look like metal rather than cloth. Areas of the giants' armor were found to have traces of gold leaf in the recesses. Also, successive paint layers and weathering had obscured a number of decorative elements in the giants' armor. Previous restorations had used gold-colored paint on the armor, which eventually oxidized and turned brown. In 2005–2006, all the decorative armor components were coated with gold leaf.

The figures themselves were in poor structural condition, with many breaks and numerous large cracks. With a view to preserving as much of the original figures as possible, the decision was made to inject a deep penetrating resin into the porous wood, rather than cut out and replace damaged sections.

Two colorful sculptures of bearded men wearing elaborate costumes
Newly restored Gog and Magog await their return to the Sir John Bennett shop.

Of course, Gog and Magog are not the only figures in the facade of the building—Father Time and a Muse are also in attendance to assist in the job of chiming. Made of plaster rather than wood, these figures were given structural repairs and then gilded with 1,400 sheets of gold leaf. During the repair work on the Muse, decorative elements were discovered on the harp under layers of paint and filler. The decoration was carefully restored, and can be seen on the front vertical post of the harp. A maker's name, "Brogiotti," was also revealed during the restoration.

Finally, the internal mechanisms for all four figures were repaired, and additional lubrication points were added to help minimize future wear.

Two golden statues, one of a woman wearing flowing robes and one of a figure with wings, in a workroom
Father Time and the Muse show off their new coats of gold leaf.

The Clock


The clock mechanism was in need of a complete overhaul. Many of the bronze bearings—separate components fitted into the clock movement's large cast iron frame—had become worn and needed to be "re-bushed" to bring the mechanism back to its original operating specifications. During cleaning, conservators discovered that all of the cast iron framing was originally painted a blue-green with white pin striping. All of this original paint was carefully cleaned and preserved.

Man using a screwdriver on a large and elaborate piece of machinery
Conservator Malcolm Collum reassembles the restored Sir John Bennett clock movement.

During the 1931 reconstruction of the building and clock in Greenfield Village, a number of components were replaced. Cleaning the mechanism helped us gain a better understanding of the extent of Henry Ford's restoration: the modern steel components lack the dark graining found in the original wrought iron pieces. These dark lines are called "slag inclusions," remnants of a glass-like material that gets worked into the iron during the smelting and production processes.

Weathervane


Gog and Magog receive the most attention from visitors—understandably, given their size, character, and animation—but higher up, fully exposed to everything the Michigan climate has to offer, is one of the most vivid elements of Sir John Bennett's shop: the dragon weathervane. The dragon—made of hammered copper and detailed with sharp claws, taut bat-like wings and a fiery tongue—is a quiet masterpiece of design, craftsmanship, and balance. Its swept-back wings and extended tail are designed to catch even the slightest breeze; its head is weighted with lead in order to balance the body and allow for free pivoting.

Man suspended from crane holds onto an elaborate metal weathervane in the shape of a dragon with decorative elements underneath
The dragon weathervane is readied for removal from its perch.

When the dragon was removed from its perch in late 2005, it was found to be in stable condition. Structural repairs were followed by a thorough cleaning to remove corrosion and degraded metallic paint. Finally, rather than simply repaint the dragon, we returned it to its original splendor with a coat of gold leaf.

Bright gold, partially shiny and partially dull, figure of dragon with tools and implements nearby
Dragon weathervane during gilding.

Repaired and resplendent, silhouetted against a Dearborn rather than a London sky, the dragon once again watches over the visitors who gather to watch Gog and Magog.


Malcolm Collum is former Conservator at The Henry Ford and Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Vice President, Historical Resources, at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series in May 2006.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, research, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, conservation, collections care, by Marc Greuther, by Malcolm Collum, art

THF239803
Cunningham Drugs, Detroit, Michigan, 1976. THF 239803 

It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of John Margolies.

THF239044
Elwood Bar, Detroit, Michigan, 1986. THF 239044

John was motivated the same way many photographers with a deep appreciation for history are: he wanted to capture things that had become overlooked, structures that were endangered, vulnerable, and on the brink of destruction. But rather than choosing a neighborhood, or town or region he chose what could be found along the edges of all the old roads, the pre-interstate routes stretched throughout the United States—like a local historian of endless highways. His finest images look like stills from a perfect road movie, and they capture an element of the nation’s essence and identity—mom and pop businesses, motels, diners, crazy signage and attractions, clamoring for the attention of motorists, played out against distance and motion.

THF239001

Sands Motel, Grants, New Mexico, 2003. THF 239001

A large selection of John’s photographic slides were acquired by The Henry Ford in 2013; John also donated a great many roadside-related souvenirs and other items.

The museum’s exhibit Roadside America: Through the Lens of John Margolies ran from June 2015 to January 2016. Continue Reading

photographs, in memoriam, by Marc Greuther, photography

In March of 1938 Zenith Radio Corporation introduced a remarkable product—an elegant listening device, priced at $19.95, designed to allow parents to monitor their children after bedtime.

radionurse1The idea for the Radio Nurse originated with Zenith’s charismatic president, Eugene F. McDonald Jr. Like all parents, McDonald was concerned about his baby daughter’s safety—especially in the wake of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s young son. As a result, he had experimented with an ad hoc system of microphones and receivers that allowed him to keep an ear out for his daughter’s well-being.

Once he was satisfied with his improvised system’s workability, he handed it off to his company’s technicians to create something more reliable and marketable. The device they engineered could not have been simpler. The transmitter, called a "Guardian Ear" could be placed close to the child’s crib or bed; the receiver, called the ‘Radio Nurse” would be set close to wherever the parents happened to be spending their time; both components would be plugged into electrical outlets, the house wiring acted as the carrier for the transmitted sound. The final finished product however was much more than a marriage of concerned fatherhood, ingenuity, and engineering; the presence of another creative mind—that of sculptor Isamu Noguchi—resulted in a product now regarded as an industrial design classic.

Noguchi was responsible for the styling of the system’s most visible, and audible, component—the Radio Nurse receiver. Minimally, he had to create a vessel to house and protect a loudspeaker and its associated vacuum tubes, but actually his task was much more challenging: he had to find a way to soften a potentially intrusive high tech component’s presence in a variety of domestic settings.

Noguchi’s solution, remarkably, was both literal and paradoxical: he created a faceless bust, molded in Bakelite, fronted by a grille and backed by the suggestion of a cap—an impassive abstract form that managed to capture the essence of a benign, yet no-nonsense, nurse. Shimmering in a grey area where the abstract and figurative appear to meet, it strikes a vaguely surrealist note—it wouldn’t be out of place in an image by Giorgio de Chirico or Man Ray. A touch of whimsy is incorporated: adjustment of the concealed volume control wheel amounts to a kind of tickle under the unit’s chin—subtly undermining the effect of the stern Kendo mask-like visage. Still, with its human yet mechanical features, the Radio Nurse remains slightly sinister and finally inscrutable.

But was it neutral enough to sit close at hand without, in silence, striking its own discordant note? Sales never did take off, but it was a technical problem—rogue broadcasts picked up or transmitted by the house wiring—that gave cause for customer complaint. Alarming as the Radio Nurse might be when provoked into voicing one of junior’s broadcasts, the possibility that some other unknown voice might start to speak through that blank grille would surely have made the unit’s presence aggravatingly suspenseful.

To see more Isamu Noguchi-related artifacts, take a look at our online collections.

Marc Greuther is Vice-President of Historical Resources and Chief Curator at The Henry Ford.

technology, design, by Marc Greuther, communication, radio