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Historic Knight Library: Art & Architecture

Guide to the art and architecture of the 1937 historic Knight Library, University of Oregon, Eugene.


The Ernest Thomas Cast Stone Company, Portland, Oregon, manufactured the cast stone heads of the frieze and other decorative elements on the facade, as well as the fountain ensemble for the historic Knight Library.  Some of the decorative facade elements were designed by Louis Shubert, an employee of the company, and the Ellis Lawrence firm contributed to the design details.  The heads were designed by Edna Dunberg and Louise Utter Pritchard.

Louis Shubert was a principal designer for the company.  Formerly of Seattle, Shubert had been a lead designer for the Gladding-McBean terra cotta company in Auburn, Washington, which closed in 1932.  Shubert was support by the federal Public Works of Art Project which existed from December 1933 until June 1934.

Balcony detail, Knight Library
Knight Library, balcony detail. Cast stone.

Ernest Thomas was born in Germany in 1880 and immigrated to the US with his family in 1884.  Architect Edward T. Foulkes hired Thomas to come to  Portland to do the cast stone decorative work for the Henry J. Pittock Mansion which was built 1909-1914.  Thomas stayed in Portland and established the Ernest Thomas Cast Stone Company.  This company employed sculptors to create designs for interior cast stone, cast plaster friezes, and exterior facades which the company fabricated. The popularity of cast stone increased during the Depression Era as a less expensive alternative to the more expensive, but more durable terra cotta.

The work of the Ernest Cast Stone Company, whose employees included William Kremel, Rolf Odeane, and Louis Shubert, added decoration to a variety of building types and also included everyday garden ornaments and outdoor furniture.  The company's work in Eugene prior to the library was the decorative work for the Museum of Art (1930). When the company ceased operation, Kremel acquired approximately 3,500 molds, some of which were used for restorative work on historic sites like the Pittock Mansion.  Thomas died on December 17, 1941, in Portland.

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Grayson, Charlotte.  "Meticulous Craftsmanship Employed for Pittock Facelifting."  Oregonian, January 27, 1973, 17.

Pittenger, Hilary. Auburn. Images of America. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

Shellenbarger, Michael. "The Library, University of Oregon," Ellis Lawrence Building Survey, Oregon Inventory of Historic Property,  February 25, 1989.  Scholars Bank: Ellis Lawrence Building Survey.

"Thomas, Ernest." Oregon Death Index, 1903-1998.  Salem:  Oregon State Archives and Records Center.