Have camera, will travel

Jeff Morrison with his two books, plus an adult coloring book based on his first book, The Guardians of Detroit. Photo by D. Rush

Oxford man snaps his way to second book

By Don Rush

So what do you do after a 30-year career as a graphic artist in Metro-Detroit? If you’re Oxford resident Jeff Morrison, 62, you start another career which would lead you to publish first a 322-page book, and follow that up with a 466-page, hardcover book.

Guardians of Michigan: Architectural Sculpture of the Pleasant Peninsulas, just published by the University of Michigan Press features over 1,200 photos of sculpture found on over 360 structures from more than 100 towns throughout Michigan – including architectural sculptures from Oxford, Orion and Clarkston.

Photography has been my hobby since I was nine or 10 years old,” Morrison said. “About 10 or 15 years ago, I started going through all my old photos of Detroit and I thought I’d like to put together a book that could be sold at gift shops, maybe like 100 pages.”

From the Scripps mansion in Orion Township. Photo by Jeff Morrison

He had enough photos to start the project, of three or four buildings, and then went back and took hundreds more photographs of architectural sculpture.

That led him to contacting Wayne State University. “I knew they published a lot of architectural books. I put together a proposal and a sample booklet and they decided to publish it,” he said.

That book, The Guardians of Detroit, is 322 pages and was released in the spring of 2019. It sold out its first two printings and, he said, is on its third print run. “We’ve sold something like 5,000 or 6,000 books. It’s done pretty well and it’s funny to me because I looked online to see if anyone had done a book like this on Detroit, and they hadn’t. There are a lot of books on architecture and architects, but nothing on architectural sculpture. So, I was able to find an unoccupied niche that I could fill.”

As he finished up The Guardians of Detroit, he started to work on The Guardians of Michigan project.

Morrison said he decides which photos to use and how to crop them, by first laying out the photos on pages in Photoshop and then finishes each page up with the computer program InDesign. “I laid out the entire Detroit book, then they took that material and redid it – but it’s still 70-75 percent my layout. The Michigan book I laid it out completely from start to finish and U of M Press made minor changes. The layout is 99 percent mine.”

From the Scripps mansion in Orion Township. Photo by Jeff Morrison

The Michigan book has 95 feature buildings from 45 cities and another section in the rear of the book called “Other Structures” with 264 buildings. The featured buildings each have two to 12 pages of content per building.

One of the fun parts of doing these books is finding new sculptures in places I never knew of,” he said. “It started because I would look at these buildings and wonder what the meaning was behind the sculpture. The Metropolitan United Methodist Church on Woodward Avenue I would pass on the way to or from a Tigers game and there’s a big pelican on the front of the church. And, I would always wonder, ‘Why is there a pelican on the front of that church?’ I looked the story up and found it’s a symbol of atonement. There are three little pelicans below, there are different translations of it, but the story goes that the father pelican would be annoyed by the noise of the chicks and he beat them to death. And, three days later he felt bad and revived them. He would tear open his chest and feed them his blood. It’s kinda a gory story, but a symbol of atonement.”

The farthest away he traveled for the project was to the town of Wakefield, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – the closest featured sculptures are of the old Oxford Savings Bank, at the Scripps monastery in Orion and from the Columbiere Center in Clarkston. Currently, Morrison has speaking engagements throughout the state promoting his book and he is working on another book about buildings in Ohio, to be published by the University of Ohio.

Architectural sculpture from the Columbiere Center in Clarkston. Photo by Jeff Morrison.

It’s become a full time job,” he said.

Morrison is no stranger to Oxford, having spent most of his life here. His folks moved their family to Oxford when he was in the fourth grade; he graduated from Oxford High School in 1977. His father Roger was an elementary teacher at Daniel Axford Elementary. All three of he and his wife Susie’s children also graduated from OHS.

He reminds people when they are walking in towns, to “look up” because you’ll never know what you might see. For more information about The Guardians of Michigan, go to the website, GuardiansofMichigan.com. On Feb. 8, he will give a presentation at the Oxford Public Library on the influence of Native American culture on Michigan architectural sculpture.



The guardian eagle sculpture over downtown Oxford at the old Oxford Savings Bank. Photo by Jeff Morrison.



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