To the west of the Folger, a statue of Shakespeare’s mischievous sprite Puck looks merrily toward the U.S. Capitol from above a fountain surrounded by plantings. The inscription below, “Lord, what fooles these mortals be!”, was chosen by chief architect Paul Cret and consulting architect Alexander Trowbridge from three Puck quotations supplied by Henry Folger. Cret used carved oak branches in the marble base to suggest the woods of Athens, where Puck plays his tricks in A Midsummer Night’s Dream .
To create Puck, Cret and Trowbridge chose the prize-winning, widely exhibited New York sculptor Brenda Putnam (1890–1975), who was also the daughter of Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress. This work reflects her interest in bold lines and shapes. Puck is three-dimensional, but flattened like a living wall. The long, straight folds of his drapery and his carefully aligned arms and legs echo the vertical rhythms of the building behind him.
Putnam chose Alabama marble for her work, rather than the more brittle Georgia marble used on the Folger exterior. Still, nearly 70 years outdoors took their toll on the statue. Black gypsum crusts formed in its recesses, acidic pollutants exposed grainy quartz within the marble, and changing seasons led to cracks and flaking. Vandals caused periodic damage, and in the late 1990s, Puck lost his right hand.
With help from Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) and generous members of the public, Puck was whisked away to Daedalus, Inc., in Watertown, Massachusetts, for treatments to halt the damage, restore his hand, and lighten the stains. The original marble Puck now kneels indoors, just outside the Theatre, on a new limestone base. His cast aluminum twin, matching the material of the Folger’s decorative window grilles, presides over the fountain outside.