A Memphis Mystery: Where Were These Mosaics Displayed?
By Vance Lauderdale
My pal Lea Holland has presented me with a mystery, and I thought I'd ask my half-dozen readers for their assistance in solving it.
She writes: "I have the job of restoring two mosaics that have been displayed at Memphis College of Art for many years. I'm told they were done by Thorne Edwards, revered ceramics teacher at MCA, possibly in the 1950s or '60s. They were left outside for many years, and have suffered greatly from the elements. MCA donated them to Loeb Properties for placement at the new Overton Square garage.
"I would love any information you could find on the mosaics, especially dates and identification. Were there other panels? As a diptych, they don't match very well. The harlequin figure on the left is a nice generic identification, but who is the priestly type on the left? The best guess I have is a general Babylonian priest."
A few days later, she provided some additional information about the figures:
"I've come up with a reasonable guess at the identification of the priestly fellow. The olive wreath, beard, and robes seem to indicate a priest of Apollo of ancient Greece, of which the most famous priest is Chryses, part of the Trojan War myth told by Homer in the Iliad. His outstretched arms suggests the moment in the story when Chryses prays to Apollo to make Agamemnon return his daughter Chryseis. Apollo sends a plague through the Greek armies until Agamemnon releases the girl. Very exciting moment.
"Of the Harlequin, I can't find much more than his definition as a comic character in commedia dell'arte, usually masked, dressed in multicolored, diamond-patterned tights, and carrying a wooden sword or magic wand.
"Thanks for helping me hunt for more information on these mosaics!
Okay, everyone please take a good look at these figures and then put your thinking caps on. Note their boxlike wooden frames. Lea and I agree they were probably part of a set, since it doesn't make sense (to us) to have just these two seemingly unrelated characters. But does anyone remember seeing them displayed or mounted anywhere — in a restaurant, perhaps? I forgot to ask her about their size, but large or small they are so colorful they would be hard to miss — or forget. Let me know if anything comes to mind.