Frick Art Reference Library Fossils

  • Posted on Oct 04, 2015 by

The American architect John Russell Pope (1874-1937) designed the current home of the Frick Art Reference Library, which opened to the public on January 14, 1935. The walls of its lobby and third-floor vestibule are made of Indiana limestone. As a staff member of the Library, I have wondered about the biomorphic formations present in these walls. Thinking that they are perhaps fossils, I began to explore this prospect. I was happy to discover that the American Museum of Natural History offers an online service for fossil identification.  After sending several photographs, I received a reply identifying the probable fragmented remains of crinoids and single-shelled cephalopods.  Further research revealed that mass populations of these organisms thrived in the vast body of water that covered the state of Indiana 400 million years ago.  Accumulations of organic and mineral sediments from this period created limestone.

Three fossil examples from the Indiana limestone walls of the Frick Art Reference Library lobby and third-floor vestibule.

Three fossil examples from the Indiana limestone walls of the Frick Art Reference Library lobby and third-floor vestibule.

Crinoids (several species still exist) possess flexible arms that are used for feeding on microorganisms. These branch out of a bulbous calyx containing the mouth and other organs that are joined to a segmented stem.  Small appendages at the base of the stem provide stability on the sea floor.

Single-shelled cephalopods had a cone-shaped shell with empty chambers that allowed for buoyancy. With a squid-like head and tentacles, they were free swimming and survived on a diet of smaller fish and crustaceans.


Lorenzo De Los Angeles; Fossils in the Indiana limestone Walls of the Frick Art Reference Library (Thank you to Carl M. Mehling, Fossil Amphibian, Reptile and Bird Collections, Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History for providing insight on this project); Paper, clay, pipe cleaners, bamboo baskets, foam board, mat board, rope, string, fabric, wood, house paint, glue, wire, ribbon, acrylic paint, and gel medium; Various objects displayed on a table measuring 30”L x 18”W x 30”H; 2015.


For my contribution to the 2015 edition of the staff art exhibition of The Frick Collection and the Frick Art Reference Library, I chose to create sculptural renderings of crinoids and cephalopods. The title of the exhibition was 50 Shades of Green. With that in mind, I considered  the “act” of being green in terms of recycling, reusing, and repurposing rather than as color.  Through trial and error, I transformed found materials such as tree branches, discarded paper, and fabric into the body structures of these creatures.  Surplus latex house paint, purchased from non-profit Build It Green! NYC, was applied in heavy coats to convey skin or shell-like surfaces.  Beside the sculptures, I placed a stack of research articles, photos of the wall fossils, and of the artwork in progress in order to provide contextual information for the viewer.

The Library will be giving architectural tours of its building for Open House New York Weekend October 17-18, 2015. Visit to see the Indiana limestone walls in person and to learn about the other materials used in the construction of the Library.  See The Frick Collection calendar for more information.

Lorenzo De Los Angeles, Reference Clerk/Technician, Frick Art Reference Library

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