'Field Guide' spotlights Detroit architectural sculptor Parducci

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci's work is so widespread around Detroit, you're likely familiar with it even if you've never heard of the man. 

Consider: The stern Mayan gods at the entrance to the Guardian Building. The bears on the Detroit Zoo's Horace M. Rackham Memorial Fountain. The time-worn medallion of a winged Mercury sunk flush in the marble floor of the Fisher Building lobby. 

A new book from architectural historian and photographer Dale A. Carlson with Einar E. Kvaran, "Corrado Parducci: A Field Guide to Detroit's Architectural Sculptor," offers an encyclopedic listing of work by the Tuscan-born master, whose reputation has soared in recent years with the uptick in enthusiasm for all things Detroit. 

The new book is available on Amazon, and will shortly be in Oak Park's Book Beat and at the Detroit Artists Market.

Indeed, in 2012 the Parducci Society was formed. Four years later, Jennifer Baross and Jack P. Johnson released their documentary, "Parducci: The Man Who Made Detroit Beautiful." 

But back to Carlson. Just flip through his 'Index of Buildings and Sites' and see if you're not surprised how many projects Parducci worked on that you recognize. 

His hand is everywhere, comprising an outsized percentage of the lush detailing on many of our most-significant buildings -- including the Penobscot Building, Herman Kiefer Hospital, and the University of Michigan's Horace M. Rackham Graduate School building.

Carlson credits Kathryn Bishop Eckert's "Buildings of Michigan" with planting the seed for his book. "I bought 'Buildings of Michigan' for my mom on her birthday years ago," he explained, "and immediately borrowed and never returned it."

In paging through Eckert's book, Carlson said, "I realized the buildings I liked best often had Parducci sculpture on them. And I constantly heard references to his 600-plus commissions," he added, "but nobody had ever produced a list of more than 50 of them you could go try to find." 

That's a shortcoming the author aims to overcome with his "Field Guide," complete with 361 illustrated citations, often accompanied by short informative captions. Generally speaking, each building -- no matter how much ornamentation is on it -- gets just one entry and one image.

Those who pay close attention to Detroit architecture will likely know Carlson's name already, not least from his highly informative website devoted to architecture and graffiti, ILoveDetroitMichigan.com, with its authoritative link, "Albert Kahn: 400 Buildings in Metro Detroit." 

Asked what his favorite example of Parducci sculpture is, Carlson said, "That’s a huge, huge question. But I think I’m going to go with Kirk in the Hills, because that showcases quite a few different styles."

Corrado Parducci's take on architect Wirt Rowland on Kirk in the Hills church in Bloomfield Hills, a building Rowland was instrumental in helping design.

Chief among them, an almost comically compressed sculpture of Detroit architect Wirt Rowland, who played a key role in the church's design.

Parducci came to Detroit while working for New York City sculptor and designer Anthony DiLorenzo, but ultimately bought out his boss' commissions in the Motor City and went out on his own -- working for architects like Albert Kahn, Donaldson & Meier, and Smith Hinchman & Grylls, among others. 

"Before 1925," Carlson said, "a lot of Kahn work went to DiLorenzo with the requirement that Parducci execute the sculpture."

In some cases, like Kahn's 1929 Fisher Building, the architect had several artisans working simultaneously -- Parducci, DiLorenzo, and Ulysses Ricci. 

"Corrado Parducci: A Field Guide To Detroit's Architectural Sculptor" is, at the moment, only available on Amazon, and sells for $17.95. But Carlson promises in short order it will probably show up at Detroit Artists Market and Oak Park's Book Beat. 


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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy