Built: 1926, March – William Zorach (Artist), Seth Thomas Clock Company, Thomaston, Connecticut (clock movement), and the Kunst Art Bronze Foundry (bronze casting)
Description: Referred to as the Silk Clock, this clock is easy to miss in midtown. It is perched above the entrance to the Schwarzenbach Building and is constructed of bronze. The bronze skin is skillfully wrought to show, among other things, Mulberry leaves around the face (a favorite food of the silkworm). Above the clock face and surround, there is a grouping of figures. The figure that looks like a wizard is Zoroaster, “the mastermind and doer of all things” and he is adorned with Zoroastrian symbols. At his feet, lies a cocoon and past that, a “slave” who is meant to represent the “primitive forces and instincts of man” where he appears as a blacksmith, hard at work with hammer on anvil.
When the clock strikes the hour (or near enough as the works are intricate,
mechanical, and stymied by the city’s filth), Zoroaster waves his wand, the blacksmith rises and hammers upon the cocoon, and the elegant “Queen of Silk” emerges from the cocoon holding a tulip until the hour has passed.
The symbology of this amazing clock, combined with the terra-cotta figural moth surrounds (designed by the clock artist’s wife-Marguerite Thompson Zorach) point to the importance of silk for this building’s original occupants. Beginning in 1888, New York City was a major center for the international Schwarzenbach silk house.
Following are the artist’s words in designing this clock for Schwarzenbach
“He [Schwarzenbach] was Swiss and had a Swiss’s love of wood carving and trick figures. He wanted a carved clock for the front of his building on Fourth Avenue with the figure of a man and a girl, ‘The Spirit of Silk,’ to appear on the hour. He had McKim, Mead and White design this clock for him and he hated it. Then he asked me to design it. It was a terrible ordeal. He drove me crazy fussing over these designs. That summer in Maine I had a model made full size in plywood and painted it to look like bronze, shipped it down, and hung it on his building. Schwarzenbach came down from his office, took one look, and said, ‘That’s not what I want,’ and disappeared. I felt utterly defeated. But I went ahead and carved the little figures in wood anyway. I took them to Noské’s office, and when Schwarzenbach came in he seemed rather pleased with them. He said, ‘I’ve got to leave for South America tomorrow; so go ahead with the figures and the clock.” from Art is My Life: the Autobiography of William Zorach (1967)
Sources: http://forgotten-ny.com/2008/12/manhattan-clock-sampler/, http://www.14to42.net/32street2.3.html, Art is My Life: the Autobiography of William Zorach (1967)