LIONS HAVE been widely used in heraldry to symbolize bravery, valor and strength. This particular bas relief plaque is a reproduction of a fire mark from somewhere in England. It is unusual in that the rampant and regardant lions flank a tree of life. Often heraldic symbols have local significance or a historical link, but fire marks displayed on a building would symbolize protection by a particular company that insured the building.
AFTER THE Great Fire of London in 1666 devastated one-third of the city, there was a turning point in attitudes towards the hazard of fire. Like-minded property owners pooled resources to provide their own insurance protection with organized teams of fire fighters. Few streets were named and the buildings were not numbered, so some method of identification was necessary. Fire insurance was born. The plaques with either the logo of the insurer or the county's coat of arms (most likely the case here) were attached to buildings, indicating the group or company that insured the building. Most fire companies were financed this way and protected buildings marked with their fire mark, with any uninsured fire damage paid for by the individual. This practice continued for 250 years until fire stations were publically-funded to protect the public from all fires.
YOU'LL ALSO see plenty of lions depicted in sculpture and architectural statuary, evoking a sense of majesty and awe, especially around public structures. A few notable examples are the Great Sphinx of Giza; Patience and Fortitude, the regal stone lions outside the main branch of the New York Public Library; and lions used in traditional Chinese architecture. In the ancient city of Beijing, flanking male/female statues are seen in almost every door entrance. The Chinese people believe that lions protect humans from evil spirits. The Chinese New Year Lion Dance is performed during their celebrations to scare away demons and ghosts.
WHATEVER the specific origin of the fire mark shown here, I will always cherish it as a thoughtful and symbolic gift from Jon, however our lives continue together. Ever-thoughtful and romantic in his gift-giving, he personalized the gift with a card that contained a drawing of a beautiful tree, along with a terra cotta bird representing his urge to "nest within the heart of [my] branches." After all, birds and trees, just as humans are dependent on each other for a place of refuge. And I'll always be surrounded with the magical wisdom of cats. Few animals compare to their grace, beauty and courage. It's good to have all of this combined in a significant marker from someone I care about deeply. It serves as insurance for the fire of the soul and protects the refuge found by both of us in this (decorated) tree of life.
What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats?
—Henry David Thoreau
HERALDIC BEAUTY | (Above, right) This plaque, a reproduction of a fire mark from England is sold at Atlanta Water Gardens and from a North Carolina company, Unique Stone. The copper stand was bought at Flax Art and Design. The table is from the Charlotte Collection at Pottery Barn. (Above, left) A hand-drawn interior of a card by Jon Chavez, card (exterior not shown) by Papyrus. Terra cotta bird from Atlanta Water Gardens.
©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
photography and styling by Darryl Moland, tree drawing by Jon Chavez