Stone symbols illustrate aspects of learning

A right-hand bookend carving depicts a figure solving a mathematical sum, accompanied by a skull resting upon a pile of books, symbols of mortality and learning.
A right-hand bookend carving depicts a figure solving a mathematical sum, accompanied by a skull resting upon a pile of books, symbols of mortality and learning.
A left-hand bookend grotesque points to New Zealand on a geographical globe and is accompanied by an owl sitting on a lamp, symbols of wisdom, light and learning.
A left-hand bookend grotesque points to New Zealand on a geographical globe and is accompanied by an owl sitting on a lamp, symbols of wisdom, light and learning.
A figure holds medical symbol the caduceus of Mercury with its two wings and snakes. The rod of Asclepius, with one snake and no wings, is also used as a symbol of healing.
A figure holds medical symbol the caduceus of Mercury with its two wings and snakes. The rod of Asclepius, with one snake and no wings, is also used as a symbol of healing.
A grotesque holds a engineering cogwheel.
A grotesque holds a engineering cogwheel.
This figure represents a dentist holding a tooth removed with pliers.
This figure represents a dentist holding a tooth removed with pliers.
A figure wearing a judicial wig holds the scales of justice.
A figure wearing a judicial wig holds the scales of justice.
A jovial figure holds an unfurled scroll from before the age of print.
A jovial figure holds an unfurled scroll from before the age of print.
A geologist with a lantern wields a pickaxe.
A geologist with a lantern wields a pickaxe.
A grotesque depicts a hooded academic holding up a book.
A grotesque depicts a hooded academic holding up a book.

The University of Otago’s grotesques have stared down on pedestrians on campus for more than 100 years. Completed in 1914, the statues each depict a different aspect of academic study.

It is rumoured the grotesques were modelled on academic staff of the time, however, that has never been confirmed.

It is not known who carved the grotesques, but Edmund Anscombe, the university’s architect from about 1909 to 1929, is considered responsible for the unique design elements on the elaborate archway building and was known to have a playful streak that surfaced in his work.

The grotesque carvings are not gargoyles which are drainage ‘‘throats’’ (as in gargle). Gargoyles are specifically waterspouts, often carved as open-mouthed creatures to spill rainwater off buildings.

The archway was built by Fletcher Brothers, who won the tender to build it for a price of £10,292.

Photographer Gerard O’Brien got as close as he dared to the stone carvings in the Union St archway.

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