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Originally crafted by the Greeks, finials are one of the earliest forms of decoration. They used sphinxes and balls as finials or headpieces to decorate gravestones. Today the Greek influence is prevalent as finials adorn everything from flag poles and post tops to gates and street lights.

These sometimes small but ubiquitous pieces can be a big deal when it comes to putting the final touches on a project. Finials can turn an ordinary post or street light into a stunning piece that adds character and extra value to a project.

Early examples of finials in America can be seen on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. which was built in 1793. The Statue of Freedom, a female figure standing triumphantly atop the Capitol dome was created by Thomas Crawford as the cap for one of America's most famous buildings.

St. Louis is home to many historic buildings including the Anheuser-Busch Brewery located at the I-55 and Arsenal Street. Eagles are used prominently in Anheuser-Busch logos and eagle finials decorate the outside of the brewery, giving visitors a taste of the proud tradition of one of the world's biggest brewers. The figures are quite large with their wings extended symbolizing the confidence of one of nature's most feared birds of prey.

While many finials are used for symbolic purposes, they are often times used simply as decoration.

"I find that finials are used most for decoration," said Bob Goetz of St. Louis, Missouri based Robert E. Goetz and Associates. "They are used as a symbol of past elegance."

Doug DeLong of Loomis Associates in St. Louis, Missouri worked on a project called "Wildhorse" where horse head finials were used both decoratively and symbolically throughout the design.

"There was definitely a tie-in there," he said. "We repeated the horse heads on street signs in cast aluminum."

The heads on the street signs were removed shortly after they were put up.

"They didn't last long," DeLong said with a laugh. "They were a popular souvenir item. We didn't think that much about how we attached them, I guess we needed to think about it a little more."

A typical ball cap replaced the spaces left desolate by the horse thieves.

Finials can be custom designed or ordered from a catalog to meet the budgetary needs of the client. DeLong said that most of the finials that he sees being requested are going on the tops of tiers as well as in conjunction with entry monuments.

Although some people may prefer animals or finials with ornate detail like a fruit basket or pineapple, the typical geometric shapes are still the most popular. These are mainly used as decoration pieces but the bigger a finial gets the more it is used as a symbolic piece.

 Finials are used to enhance the style and value of a project. A pyramid shaped finial (above) is used as caps on both ends of the sign.

There are a host of finial designs for Landscape Architects to choose from. Kenneth Lynch and Sons of Wilton, Connecticut has been making finials since the 1950s and has a variety of finials to choose from. The company makes its products out of lead and stone. Its "stone" products are made out of cast stone which is a concrete product. They have the usual ball finial that remains popular as well as specialty designs like the Conch Shell. Kenneth Lynch and Sons supplies the fruit basket design in more than a dozen styles to fit anyone's fancy.

The key to a good finial, according to Grace Weitman at Kenneth Lynch and Sons, is the size and scale of the piece must be correct and the piece has to make a person want to talk about it.

Another piece that can get people talking are Bellmawr, New Jersey-based Haddonstone's Peregrine Falcon. This is a bird that was favored by royalty for hunting. Haddonstone's design shows this falcon in full splendor standing at 31-inches, and with its wings slightly spread it has a width of 16-inches. Haddonstone also features the king of the jungle with their 24-inch tall lion finial.

Herwig Lighting in Russelville, Arkansas has finials that include light posts. Herwig's finials come in a variety of shapes, flame and pointed finials being the most common in the companies collection. Special requests can be made when ordering a cast aluminum light post or lantern.

Rosatto Giovani S.R.L., maker of Vicenza Stone Sculptures located in Vicenza, Italy offers finials made from Vicenza Stone. The stone is found in quarries with a small amount of water to ensure that the stone has only a slight degree of hardness, thus making it easier to be cut with a wood saw. Among the finials featured is a woven fruit basket overflowing with flowers and assorted garnishes, carved to look like each piece was individually placed in the basket. They also have an urn shaped finial with a pineapple topping, mounted on a square base. Detailed sculpting on many of the pieces feature ancient renderings of people or animals that adds to the classic feel of these finials.

Hapco, located in Abingdon, Virginia has made aluminum light poles for 50 years and offers small finials that trim its poles. Two examples are the Bristol and Georgetown models. The Bristol is a classic looking light post with a small ball finial that stands between eight and 14 feet above the ground. The Georgetown post also stands between eight and 14 feet. It has a turn of the century (20th century) look with a small pointed finial at the top.

For fencing needs, Specrail in Hamden, Connecticut also has a variety of finials to choose from in its fencing products to meet the needs of design professionals.

All of the above companies carry the common geometric shapes as well as specialty designs and they can customize items to the needs of the consumer. So, while you are enjoying the ASLA Convention, keep your head up and notice the many uses and styles of finials in the "Gateway City." Hopefully they will give you something to talk about. LASN

  Symbolim was the reason for using the horse head finials (above) at this project in St. Louis called "Wildhorse." These heads were used on local street signs but they soon became a hot "collectors item" and vanished.

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June 17, 2019, 8:47 am PDT

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