Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of the gold-laden tomb of King Tutankhamen not only uncovered the most intact Egyptian tomb ever discovered, it triggered the attention of the world’s press, and a feverish world-wide Egyptomania soon followed.
The IMA acquired numerous Egyptian artifacts in 1928, including this bronze sculpture:
In addition to archeological successes, America’s revitalization and construction boom of the 1920’s was nationwide and Indianapolis was no exception. The economy had mostly recovered after WWI and hadn’t yet fallen into depression. A time of industry, it was a decade of heavy construction in Indianapolis. On Monument Circle alone, the Columbia Club, Guaranty Building, Test Building and Circle Tower still stand today as a tribute to the roaring twenties.
As industry grew, so did the height of the built environment. Skyscrapers were born during this era (the Empire State Building was begun in 1929). At the time, Indiana’s tallest skyscraper was Merchants National Bank topping out at seventeen stories, and remained the tallest building in Indiana until 1962. As competition for height soared, so did the demands of decoration.
Art Deco was the most popular decorative art style of the 1920’s, originating in Paris. It is a hybrid art form, combining quotations from empirical civilizations (Egypt) and a hunger for the innovation of the machine industry. It mainly features linear symmetry and geometric shapes in its design. Natural and circular forms are limited, or simplified during this time period. Notice the geometric designs of this ancient headdress compared with this purse created in the 1920’s:
Art Deco and traditional Egyptian figural art both feature flat two-dimensional characteristics, as can be seen on Circle Tower. The building is also a nod to Aztec influence – note the stair-stepped design below.
Circle Tower is one of many existing Art Deco building in Indianapolis. It particularly features intricately designed bronze ornamentation of Egyptian workers. Bronze was similarly popular in the ancient world, as it was a symbol of man’s achievement. (Bronze is an alloy that must be combined through human effort and is not found in nature). The Tower’s main structure is Indiana limestone.
Circle Tower is fourteen stories with a two story tower. It was the first building on the circle to feature “set back” construction in order to comply with the controversial 1905 height restriction ordinance. This ordinance stated that no building could be higher than 86 feet, so as to obstruct the Soldiers and Sailor’s Monument from sight. So the main part of Circle Tower is 86 feet, but the additional tower is set back, in order to achieve height and carefully comply with the rules.
These bronze elements on Circle Tower show Egyptian iconography through representing figures at work. Also, on the elevator doors in the interior lobby are similar figures, except they are portrayed as helping pull the elevator ropes and cranks to move the elevator from floor to floor.
So next time you stop at Starbucks on Monument Circle, (a current occupant of Circle Tower) make sure you check out the many unique details of the building (and some not covered in this blog) and next time you are at the IMA , be sure to catch the Egyptian artifacts on the third floor!