The Atrium: Preserving a Gem
Over the years, most of the interior of the building had been covered over or drastically altered. Architect David Ewart's original intent can still be seen, however, in the atrium. The renovations preserved the essential characteristics of this space, which is so significant to the heritage of the building.
Many elements contribute to the beauty of the atrium:
- Four storeys above the ground floor, skylights provide natural lighting.
- The arrangement of stairways and the horizontal division of the interior space creates a monumental room.
- A grand staircase rises and splits to reach the second-floor galleries. This feature is also found in some European museums, such as the National Museum in Stockholm, which was constructed in 1886. The design is restrained, with its simple oak railing and moderately ornate newels, which have carvings of animals and plants on part of each face of the shaft.
- Ewart's interest in the school of Beaux-Arts composition is expressed in the ordered, symmetrical arrangement of the room and the bronze and quartered-oak balustrades around the galleries.
An interesting story is associated with the mosaic of a majestic bull moose on the floor of the foyer. During the 1950s, a Roman Catholic-school group visited the museum through the main door, as was the practice back then. A nun with the group objected to the depiction of the bull's genitals and requested that something be done about it in order to protect the moral values of visiting children. Fearing negative publicity, the museum covered the mosaic with a carpet. The mosaic remained hidden and all but forgotten until the early 1990s, when the atrium underwent restoration work and it was decided that the mosaic also be restored.