No, the Root mausoleum in Omaha, Nebraska’s Forest Lawn Cemetery is not on a square plan (figure 1).
Root (1844-1913) was an insurance salesman, and in fact he was the founder and first president of the Woodmen fraternal insurance organizations, and most particularly those organizations’ Omaha-based facet, Woodmen of the World. About Schmidt fans should take note; Like Warren Schmidt, Root was an insurance salesman, and so perhaps he was a square.
Taphophiles will perk up at the Woodmen of the World reference, for monuments paid for with Woodmen dollars dot just about any U.S. cemetery of a certain age. I’ll bet this is the largest, most complex monument ever erected with Woodmen dollars. There is in fact a plaque near the mausoleum stating that it was built by the Woodmen of the World for Root.
The mausoleum itself has a Greek feel to it, what with its tuscan columns and triglyphs and metopes in the entablature. The little rounded blobs on the edge of the roofline of the lesser masses of the building are also Greek: anthemia, now missing their paint, I think. The porch establishes a central cubic mass from which spring two lesser masses, one to each side. Into those one would slide coffins, leaving a central space in the mausoleum. The balustrade atop is just insane and I refuse to discuss it further here.
Illuminating the mausoleum’s interior is one of the best art glass windows in Forest Lawn (figure 2).
There will be some symbolism from the fraternal orders that I cannot understand in the window; Root was, among many other things, a 33rd-degree mason at the end of his life. Still, it is worth looking closely at the image. Two standing angel figures in generous mauve drapery dominate the end pieces of a triptych and thus frame the figure of a woman kneeling in the central panel. The angel on our left proffers a crown, the one on the right holds open a book with a placeholder ribbon hanging down from it in orange.
The central figure’s importance is made clear not only because she is in the foreground, but also because her figure and a flower she bears in her right hand invade the two end panels and obstruct a full view of the angel figures. The flower held by the central figure is notionally being offered in the direction of an urn on a tripod.
The urn is wrapped with a thin purple fillet, and from its mouth issues in two lazy streams what I take to be smoke. Incense? It would be more fun if we were to imagine the still smoking ashes of the dead within the urn, but these people were inhumators.
Behind the central figure rise the fantastic be-minareted towers of a mystical realm; it seems to rest upon clouds, to judge by the bluish billowing shapes between the urn and the towers.
The style seems to me to flow from the academy, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the muralists. The painterly (in fact, painted) glass inserts representing parts of the human bodies in the scene look somewhat realistic and detailed (see the hands and the face of the central figure in particular), yet they are idealized in the Pre-Raphaelite way. The subject matter (on the surface: as I said, there may be masonic or other symbolism I don’t follow here) seems academic in its dependence upon allegory. The immediacy and the appeal to the onlooker (the book angel is looking at us, drawing us into the scene) and the public didacticism seems filtered down from the muralists like Blashfield.
But if we move from taking the image apart to looking at it as a whole, it quickly becomes apparent that the artist, exploiting the strengths of working in glass, has created an abstract image out of distinct regions of color and texture. The artist is helped along by mostly using pieces of glass sized approximately like a human fist rather than a basketball or a fingernail.
The image is, of course, of a woman kneeling in front of a city with two flanking female figures. Yet it is also a study of arcs and scaly texture in olive grey green in the wings; of spring green in various shades in a chaos of blobs in the central figure’s dress; of mauve and purple zones left and right emerging from the verticals of the standing figures’ clothing; and a partial spectrum of blue rising to bluish-green in the mystical city and the clouds above it. Most of the colors are pastels, which lightens the interior and lightens the mood, I suppose.