If you’ve ever traveled to Mendocino, CA, which you absolutely should, be sure to look up from your cell phone while in the middle of town. On top of the Savings Bank of Mendocino County you’ll see a beautiful sculpture. Once you notice it, you’ll probably ask yourself why is this sculpture on top of a bank? Then, if you look a little closer you’ll see that there are several interesting and almost disturbing objects contained. You’ll wonder, is this depicting a religious or historical event, or is this some type of ancient good luck charm intended to bless the mariners who once docked their ships on Mendocino’s coast?
A little research on this sculpture reveals a back story that is incredibly elaborate and rich. It turns out that the bank was once the home of the local Masonic Lodge, which was built in the 1860’s. I can only imagine what Mendocino was like back then as it’s hard to access now and still very untamed; in the sense that the town is sandwiched between a massive Redwood Forest and monstrous bluffs dropping into the Pacific ocean. It’s really quite a trek from any significant population center and makes me wonder how enough Freemasons ended up in this little town in the 1860’s to gather the resource to build a lodge and sculpture in this remote location? If you’re also wondering, “does Freemasonry still exist?”, by all means it does, in fact the local order still meets above this bank, they just don’t own the building anymore.
As you dig in a little, you’ll find that this sculpture is not just a whimsical piece of art rather it’s steeped in what’s considered obfuscated sacred “Masonic symbolism”, and, in a nutshell, depicts the “Angel of Death”, or Father Time, holding the hair of young woman “a Weeping Maiden”. She appears to be weeping over the loss of someone who’s ashes are contained in a sacred urn that she is holding and in front of her rests a book on a broken pillar. What does this all mean? After googling “Time & Maiden” I realized that this sculpture “Time & the Maiden” is not unique to this location and is found in varying forms throughout the world. One concise summary of the sculpture that makes sense to me goes like this …
“There are several versions of this sculpture containing different components which have been related to mythology, Judaism and Christianity; yet it is ultimately a Masonic carving. It symbolizes that time, patience and perseverance will accomplish all things. The most common symbols are Father Time, a Virgin, a broken column, an urn, a sprig of acacia, and a book, all of which rest on the top level of three steps..” – http://www.brotherhogarth.com
Where this all gets more interesting to me is how the sculpture was created and ultimately ended up on top of this building. Local lore and records explain that this sculpture was hand carved by one man (Erick Albertson), born 1835 on the island of Aero, Denmark, from one solid piece of Redwood; it’s 10 feet in length and from the looks of it must be at least 10 feet in width. That’s one large tree! So why did Albertson carve this sculpture? For one, back in the 1800’s there were no cell phones, internet, cable TV. People used crafts, music books, and other distractions to occupy idle time. Second, Erick Albertson was a Freemason but not officially a part of the local order until 1865 when he submitted his application, listing his profession as “Laborer”. He worked at the local lumber mill and, interestingly, began the sculpture prior to being accepted into the local order and certainly well before the approval or construction of the lodge. It is said that he worked on this sculpture at night, after his day was done at the mill, in a make shift shelter on the beach of the local Big River (http://www.meetmendocino.com/big-river-beach/) using an oil lamp to illuminate his work. If you’ve ever been to Mendocino, you’ll know it generally is cold, damp, and foggy there just about all the time, especially at night. So, in my mind I can imagine that he must have had a big fire going as well as he worked into the night.
Albertson was 27 (1862) when he started carving the statue and it took him seven years (1869) to finish it. As fate would have it, in 1866 the local Masonic order elected Albertson, now 30 years old, to oversee construction of the new lodge. So, it’s not clear whether Albertson, in his mind, initially intended his sculpture to adorn this Masonic lodge from the beginning or not. From reports I read, he had always intended the sculpture to be an “exercise of craftsmanship”, and did not have a final resting place for it in mind. I think that’s believable in that it seems people of that era were less preoccupied with trying to gain notoriety or wealth from a task then now (no youtube, tik tok, Americas got talent) and did things like sculpt, play musical instruments, sing, etc… as a labor of love. It does seem probable that once he was chosen to oversee the construction of the lodge he was given, what you might call, an increased motivation to finish the sculpture as he now had a potentially a grand platform to share it!
I’m not clear as to when exactly construction of the lodge commenced, although it’s safe to say it was shortly after February, 1866. It took seven years to complete the lodge (1873), as Albertson continued working at the mill, and on the sculpture until completing it in 1869. In this time frame, it also appears he was married and had a child, Peter Albertson, born in 1870. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, it appears things start to unravel for Albertson. In 1871 Albertson’s wife (Matilda) passes away at 35 years old, leaving him alone with his one year old son and the job of completing the lodge. One year later (1872) Erick Albertson dies, from causes I can not seem to find, at just 37 years old, leaving behind his 2 year old son, the completed sculpture and the new lodge almost finished but not completed.
Architectural records show that initially the Mendocino Masonic Lodge did not have plans for Albertson’s sculpture to sit atop the lodge. However, as the lodge neared completion, and certainly in light of Albertson’s untimely death, an informal agreement among the members was reached that his sculpture should be featured on the building and eventually was mounted atop a cupola added specifically for its display. The lodge was officially completed in 1873 with Albertson’s “Time & the Maiden” sculpture proudly sitting on top of it. How they were able to hoist the sculpture to the top of this building, back in 1873, is probably fodder for a whole different discussion. Safe to say, they got it up there in one piece and there it stands today in wonderful condition for us all to observe, take pictures of and post for our friends to see and ponder the hidden meaning of its symbolic components.
This story of Erick Albertson and his statue has so many take aways for me. I am reminded of just how comfortable and simple it seems we have become in our creations and devotion to craft. Where as today we take some photos with our digital camera, place them on a blog or social media site and call it creativity, this pales into comparison to what someone like Albertson endured to create this sculpture 150 years ago. Working without modern lighting, heat, 3D rendering software or a 3D printer to create his sculpture, he used only his hands, the light of an oil lamp and a fire to chisel away at something for 7 years. In addition, it appears, at least on the surface, he created this object out of devotion to his craft and a way of life that he believed in, not from the want of “likes” or becoming a social idol. Lastly, this story reminds me that life is short, so spend your precious time on something you love that is enduring. I am not a Freemason, nor have I ever been, but thank you Erick Albertson for creating something beautiful, enduring and thought provoking. It almost makes me believe that, “time, patience and perseverance will accomplish all things.”