The exterior of the Folger Shakespeare Library is clad in white Georgia marble and ornamented with Shakespeare bas-reliefs by the New York sculptor John Gregory (1879–1958). By convention, this artwork would ordinarily have been positioned much higher, near the top of the building; the Folgers asked for the placement near street level to give the public a better view.
Flanking the bas-reliefs are the library’s two front doors, placed at the east and west ends of the wall. Beside the stairs leading to the doors are carvings of the winged horse Pegasus, who released the spring waters of the Hippocrene fountain—source of poetic inspiration—with a blow of his hoof. Masks of Comedy and Tragedy appear above the doors and on the windowless east side of the building, overlooking the Elizabethan Garden.
The Folger represents a very early use of aluminum in architecture. You can see it in the Art Deco grilles on the front doors and the tall windows above the bas-reliefs, and in the grilles and balcony balustrade on the west wall. The balustrade’s design incorporates the Shakespeare family coat of arms.