The Spirit of Detroit [Plaster]

Dublin Core


The Spirit of Detroit [Plaster]


Detroit (Mich.)
Figure sculpture, American--20th century


The Spirit of Detroit, 1958
Quarter scale model
Plaster original

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall M. Fredericks

Working from this model, Fredericks made the full-scale model for the sixteen-foot tall figure at the entrance to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit, Michigan. For monumental sculpture, sculptors typically create a small model or maquette, then a one-third or one-quarter scale model, then the full-size model. This provides an opportunity to work out compositional details prior to construction of the large, expensive, and time-consuming full-scale model. Enlargement of the model is done with a point-up or pantograph machine. Three are on display in the Sculptor's Studio. Note the rough surface and compare it to the smoother surface of the full-scale model for the Head of the Spirit of Detroit, central in the Main Exhibit Gallery.

Fredericks stated he never named the piece. He said:
"The theme was a verse from the Bible (2 Corinthians 3:17); 'Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.' I tried to express the spirit of man through the deity and the family,"

Gradually people began calling it Spirit of Detroit. He also waived his creative fee for this sculpture and it actually ended up costing him money to produce; he thought a mere part of his civic responsibility.


Fredericks, Marshall M., 1908-1998


Use of this image requires permission from the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.




University Center (Mich.)

Sculpture Item Type Metadata

Physical Dimensions

72" x 72" x 29"


Plaster quarter-scale

Catalog Number


Object Location

Main Exhibit Gallery


1987 November 30, Gift to Museum and SVSU Board of Control


From Jennifer Lentz Memo dated July 30, 1991

"RE: Spirit of Detroit
On July 26, 1991 Molly told me that the Spirit of Detroit located at the City County Building is from 1958 so our quarter-scale was created anywhere from 1954 to 1958."

MF, Sculptor copy:
The City-County Building of Detroit

In 1955 when a new building was to be erected to house city and county offices as a focal point of Detroit's new riverfront, the architects Harley, Ellington and Day again asked Fredericks's collaboration. It was an assignment to daunt the boldest sculptor. The twenty-story white marble building was to stand at the junction of two streets, Woodward and Jefferson Avenues, carrying heavy streams of automobile traffic. The building was to be a long rectangle, its narrow western end facing the intersection of the oldest and most historic roads in the state.
Again, as in the Veterans Memorial Building, the narrow end of the building was treated as a single monument. At its base Fredericks designed a kneeling giant, in green bronze, five times life size, representing the Spirit of Detroit. In one outstretched hand the male figure holds a gilt-bronze sphere symbolizing the spirit of God or deity, in the other a gilt-bronze group of the human family. A marble screen behind the bronze figure forms a transition between the statue and the lofty wall behind; it also serves to conceal a building entrance that might otherwise seem a mere mouse hole. Building, screen, and statue form a harmonious whole.
The marble screen serves to identify the building through the official seals of Wayne County and the city of Detroit carved on its surface. Beneath the seals is an inscription: "Now the Lord is that Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty (II Corinthians 3:17)."
As often happens, the best solution of a problem (and this one is very successful) is a simple one; a figure, both at rest and suggesting movement; familiar yet symbolizing the complexities of time, space and thought; heroic and accessible. The Spirit of Detroit was immediately popular, warmly embraced by both the public and the officials within the building. It was given an affectionate nickname, "The Jolly Green Giant," and used on official stationery as a logo and as a symbol of the city on billboards directing visitors approaching the city via major highways. Few sculptures have been so promptly adopted as the symbolic image of a city.

MF archives:
Fredericks stated he never named the piece. "The theme was a verse from the Bible (2 Corinthians 3:17): Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." "I tried to express the spirit of man through the deity and the family," Gradually people began calling it Spirit of Detroit. He also waived his creative fee for this sculpture and it actually ended up costing him money to produce; he thought a mere part of his civic responsibility.

Molly Barth copy:
This is titled "The Spirit of Detroit". This is just the quarter-scale. The full-size bronze casting is located in front of the City/County Building in downtown Detroit. It's become the symbol for Detroit; they use it for their logo on billboards, and various other things. What's also nice about this monumental piece is that as you look at it, the building is very tall, and there at the bottom of this building, as you look at it, is the big "Spirit of Detroit," and there's a concave pylon (a wall) that's behind "The Spirit of Detroit" that conceals the "mousehole" entrance to the building. So as you look at it, it's really one monument. In "The Spirit of Detroit's" left hand he's holding the Deity, or God, and then in his right hand is the family. Of course, he represents the spirit of man. On this wall, this pylon behind "The Spirit of Detroit," is the seal of Wayne County and also the seal of Detroit. The verse is from Second Corinthians, "The Lord is that Spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Mr. Fredericks never actually named this piece. The people of Detroit did, from that verse, "The Spirit of Detroit." This was cast in Norway, and brought over by boat. The four largest pieces, other than the Statue of Liberty, were done by Marshall Fredericks, and they came over by boat, over the great seas. They were cast there in Norway, because there really wasn't a foundry here in the United States that was capable of doing something this monumental. This took him four years to do, and was dedicated in 1958.
We do have the full-size head of "The Spirit of Detroit," here in the Gallery, but just the head. It's there on the middle pedestal; there in front of the middle column. It's between Kennedy on the left, and Churchill on the right.
Let me tell you a humorous, prankster story. I think it occurred in the 1960s. Some teenagers had spray painted some gigantic, green footprints from the "Spirit of Detroit" to the "Maiden" and back again. The "Maiden" was in front of the gas company, it still is. Anyway, it was a real funny story that he went over there at night and came back, footsteps returning back to where the "Spirit of Detroit" was.
The "Spirit of Detroit," is patinated a natural green color, and then the "Deity" and the "Family" are gold-leaf. They're very striking, very beautiful.

From 1995 Mary Iorio of Cranbrook, interview with Fredericks, these notes:
The Spirit of Detroit support two emblematic forms while linking them. On the Godhead, the rays represent the omnipotence of God, with the three rings representing the trinity. The family is man, woman and child. The balance of the two shows the importance of family. Fredericks' figures don't scream. Their uplifting and inspirational messages seem to exude quietly. The figure is benevolent and calm.

Iorio asked how the Spirit of Detroit came about. Fredericks replied: "The City/County Building in Detroit was really like a cigar box. It needed something to identify it, its permanence, and to maybe embellish it at the same time. We discussed it and thought it needed something to mark the entranceway. We added the big, curved wall. Then it needed something in front of it that would be meaningful to the city and to the people of Detroit. There was already too much about the Cedilla Indians and warriors. I thought it needed something of a more spiritual nature. I looked in the Bible. Second Corinthians talked about liberty. So I built the figure to go with that quotation from Second Corinthians and I think quite a lot of people got something out of it. I tried to design a figure for the deity. That was very had because it could be all kinds of things: power, strength, kindness, beauty and all the attributes of God. So I started with that sphere because it's complete, there's no beginning, no end, nothing extraneous. It's one complete thing like the sun or the moon. The rays represent the expressions of that entity, all the forces of good and all the power and strength, all the attributions of God emanating from that symbol. Then the rings are the holy trinity. In order to get approved, the city wanted to put it up, but the councilman thought they might have trouble with the different religions. They had one representative from every religion. They had about 30 who came to the meeting of the city council to discuss the sphere and vote on it. They did and when they voted, it was unanimous. The idea of the statue is the god is reflected through the spirit of man and that human family was the complete relationship. I hoped that they would feel the city was in the hands of God, so to speak, that they were protected in some way and that it would be better. Positive thoughts."

From Joy Colby Interview-1981:
As a matter of fact, the three largest pieces outside of the Statue of Liberty that crossed the ocean, I did in Norway and (they) were shipped to this country. Then when I did the Spirit of Detroit, it was too big to fit into that room (in Norway) because I had to do it in one piece-the other pieces were done in sections-so I was able to rent a big space in the Veemar (Weimar, sp?) Hall and that's the place where they make all the wine and beer and liquor in Norway, it's all owned by the government. And this was down next to their big furnaces which are as big as a house. It was very hot down there and very poor light. But that's where I made the big Spirit of Detroit." "I made the small model here, the original little small model. And then I made one that was one-sixth size here down in the studio on Woodward Avenue. Then I took that over to Norway and made the big one over there because I couldn't really ship the big model two ways. I couldn't ship the big plaster model over there and then ship the bronze back, so I just made it over there, cast it right in bronze in the same city and shipped the big bronze back. It took up the hold of an entire ship. By the way, there's a wonderful film about that that the City (Detroit) made, the whole story of the Spirit of Detroit, it's in marvelous color. Jim Handy produced it as a gift to the City. It used to be shown regularly in all the schools and libraries, but the last couple of administrations, I guess, just weren't interested and so it's kind of been lost now. I don't think anyone knows where the films are. I have a copy in the studio. It's really quite a fine film. It should be shown in the schools. They had a record of how many millions of children over the years have seen that; it was incredible how many million. The schools and libraries sent in reports on how many times they showed it and it was incredible how many had seen it. It's kind of fun because then they know how it's made and how it was put up; it showed dignitaries there when it was put up. It showed them shipping it in Norway. For instance, to get it from the foundry down through the streets to the quay to put it on the ship they had to do it at night because they had to take down the streetcar cables and the overhead wiring; it was so big; to get it down the street, it had to be done in the darkness of night. And then all the wires had to be put back up again. It was an unbelievable task. But the Norwegian people were so interested and the mayor of Norway and the city council were willing to do that because they knew that it was good for Norway, too. Although today I don't suppose many people know that it was made there since that film isn't shown there." Is this all on film, the transferring of the sculpture to the ship? "Yes. It's very interesting. We showed it to Alden Dow a few months ago in Midland." That would mean that if you made the large sculptures in Norway that you would be living there for months at a time? "I commuted because I was doing a lot of work here and also a lot of work in New York. I rented a studio space in a studio on 21st Street for about the same period of time and I commuted between here and New York and Norway and would go over there for periods and come back and Rozzie came over a number of times. It was a very busy time, but I was young and I could do it. Now I couldn't do it. But it was a very busy, trying time and a lot of work was done in those years, a lot of pieces were finished."




Fredericks, Marshall M., 1908-1998, “The Spirit of Detroit [Plaster],” Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, accessed April 23, 2024,