New Lion House carving replaces crumbling lion

When Brigham Young visited England in the early 1840s, he was impressed by the architectural landmarks he saw, and later brought some of that architectural style to Salt Lake City. His Lion House in this city is among the examples of Old Country architecture, an English Gothic Tudor style building, complete with battlements above the entrance and a carved stone lion on the portico.

The lion on the portico has been a source of public interest since 1856. However, the regal stone is beginning to crumble with age and from weathering and is in jeopardy of total ruin if left outdoors. So, to preserve the original — one of the five most significant pieces of early pioneer sculpture — it will be placed in the Museum of Church History and Art, said Richard G. Oman, senior curator.

The lion carving, and four other significant pioneer carvings, all commissioned by Brigham Young, are the Eagle Gate, the Beehive on the Beehive House, the organ casing of the Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ, and the Utah Stone that is in the Washington Monument at the U.S. capital. All were created by English convert pioneers, and all still exist.

After an extensive effort by historians and master stone carvers, an exact replica has been completed that will replace the badly deteriorated original lion. The new carving was to be hoisted by crane to its Lion House perch early May 12.

The original lion at Lion House, on portico in early photo.
The original lion at Lion House, on portico in early photo.

"It's a fantastic piece," said Hans Huettlinger, the master stone carver who handled the project, and whose son, John, did the detail work. The fourth-generation German artisan and Church member, who also carved replicas of other historic monuments, was apprenticed at age 12 and studied under a master in Germany for seven years before immigrating to the United States. Much of their work was in restoring medieval cathedrals that had been damaged during World War II. Here, in Salt Lake City, he established Hans Monument Co. His son, John, also trained in traditional stone work, is a graduate in art from Utah State University.

To make the replica, the original carving was modeled in fiberglass. Effaced areas were built up and details recaptured through studying historical photographs and other pieces by the same artist, William Ward. Years and months of effort went into the project to replicate Ward's original, although most of the detail work was completed in the past three and half months, he said.

The tawny, lion-colored replica carving has been coated with sealant to help preserve it from the weathering that damaged its predecessor.

The first lion was also carved by a master artisan. William Ward, architectural assistant for the Salt Lake Temple, was trained as a stonemason by his father and was apprenticed at age 7. He worked under a master in the English Gothic Revival tradition, the prevailing style of the Salt Lake Temple as well as the Lion House.

Although there are many stories about why the lion was made, such as influences from Brigham Young's birthplace in Vermont, it is likely that the influence felt by Brigham during his stay in England, coupled with the English training of William Ward, simply suggested including a lion such as those that proliferate in British architecture.