The Ford Empire

Dublin Core


The Ford Empire


Figure sculpture, American--20th century


Copper, brass, and aluminum on wood

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall M. Fredericks

This is the small scale model of The Ford Empire relief. It was located at the Ford Auditorium constructed on the Detroit reverifies during 1955-1956, as the new home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The building was an impressive example of the modernism of the time, but had acoustical problems. Perhaps the most notable feature of the building's interior was the expansive, curvilinear lobby, the walls of which were graced with some of Marshall Fredericks' most delicate and refined sculptures. A 145 feet long filigreed metal mural, The Ford Empire, swept almost the entire length of the curved outer wall. On the balcony walls at either end of the foyer stood polished metal theatrical groupings of circus performers, musicians, harlequin, and dancers. These pieces were done in repouss‚ and formed metal. They are neither carved, nor cast, but rather formed from literally thousands of pieces of copper, nickel, brass, stainless steel, and aluminum, plated with gold, zinc, and cadmium which were hand-shaped, joined, plated, and polished.

Fredericks stated in a 1981 interview:
"I made a little model of that piece and designed it in scale model exactly as it would be in big size. Physically, it was an extremely difficult thing to design and make. It took almost three years and it's huge. And while it looks from a distance as though they are wires, actually some of the sections are two inches in diameter. It tells the story, of course, of the Ford Empire. One end of the big group represents the forces and products of nature. On the other end, the skills and talents of man and all the different professions and so on, and these two come together and form the Ford empire which is represented with all the actual buildings and products of Ford. So, it told the story of the building in the center and then on the ends it told the other aspect of the building which is the entertainment world-the harlequin and the circus trains. And it seemed to fit in."


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

120" x 20.5"


Copper, Brass, and Aluminum on wood

Catalog Number


Object Location

Main Exhibit Gallery


1989 March, 22 Gift to Museum and SVSU Board of Control


April 3, 1992

Memo to file

From: Jennifer Lentz
Collection Documentation Intern
Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Gallery


Molly gave me additional information on these works from her notes. The three reliefs took two years to complete. HARLEQUIN and CIRCUS PARADE express the gaits of the theater, musicians and performers. In FORD EMPIRE there are 10,000 mitered joints. In 1974-75 the Renovation Committee of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra wanted to move the reliefs to the Detroit Historical Museum and replace them with a fabric design. Mr. Fredericks fought hard to keep them in place. The Civic Center Commission decided they would stay in Ford Auditorium.

"Some of the symbolism includes: the sun, celestial bodies, light, heat, water, earth, lightning, plants, animals, reptiles, birds, and minerals. From right to left are represented the intelligence and skills of man including the various sciences of astronomy, chemistry, biology, mineralogy, microcopy, electrical and mechanical engineering, and the arts, all radiating from the human brain and eye. These two motifs then culminate in the central theme of "Industrial Progress". Here are represented manufacturing, production and shipping, and such elements as railroads, Great Lake shipping, car development and aircraft with special emphasis on the Ford Empire." - Marjorie M. Howe




Fredericks, Marshall M., 1908-1998, “The Ford Empire,” Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, accessed June 25, 2024,