griffinThe most visible and oldest pieces in the Library’s collection of artwork are our griffins, Poseidon and Athena. Griffins are mythological creatures, half eagle and half lion. They are said to guard precious treasures, which is why we feel they are perfect guardians and symbols of our library.

For years the rumor was that the griffins were originally from the Everleigh Club (brothel) in Chicago. They were actually made by the J.L. Mott Iron Works from New York City in 1875 for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Charles Kohl Sr. purchased the pair of griffins and brought them to Briar Cottage, his summer home on Lac La Belle, in the late 1880s.

Charles’ widow Caroline Kohl purchased Draper Hall in 1921, where she moved the griffins to “guard” the front entrance. Mrs. Kohl sold the property in 1931. The Sisters of St. Dominic were the last residents before Draper Hall was demolished in 1967.

Hearing about the future sale of the griffins and other artifacts of the Villa St. Ann, Library Director Josephine Machus, the Library Board, staff, and Friends of the Library wanted the griffins to remain in the community. At the auction in 1967, Andrew Zafis, Library Board President, spent the day at the auction to obtain the griffins for the Library with gift fund donations. When other bidders heard that the Library wanted to purchase the griffins for the community, they dropped out of the bidding, and many offered to help the Library buy the griffins.

Ernest Nicollette, a high school art teacher, repaired the griffins, and they were moved to the Library entrance on Lake Rd. in 1968. By 1981,  years of exposure to the elements had taken a toll on the griffins. The Library raised funds to have a major restoration done by Frank Boesel of Milwaukee. A naming contest was held when the griffins returned to the Library. Misty Rather, a fourth grader from Ashippun Elementary School, named the griffins “Poseidon” (after the Greek god of water, because the Library was located on Lac La Belle) and “Athena” (the goddess of wisdom, representing the contents of the Library). 

When the Library moved to South Street in 1987, the griffins were installed at the entrance of the new library building. In 2000 they were in need of another restoration. The Library again consulted with Frank Boesel and decided that if the griffins were restored again, they should not be exposed to the winter weather. Molds were made of the originals, and outdoor replicas were created with materials that could withstand the changing weather. The Scherffius Fund granted a portion of the money needed to repair the griffins. The City of Oconomowoc Utility Committee contributed additional funds. In 2002, Poseidon and Athena were restored and placed inside the lobby, and the replicas were mounted outside of the Library. A Griffin Unveiling Ceremony was held to welcome them home on August 15, 2002.