Dear 100 Hour Board,
I was meeting a blind date in front of the Provo City Library the other day and spent a couple min looking the Beehive fountain while waiting for my date to arrive. Each corner of the fountain base has a diffrent symbol on it. I wanted to see if you guys could find out why each symbol was placed on the fountain?
Dear Provo Historian,
Before I start my answer, I should give guppy of doom a lot of credit, since she helped me get started on research and we were able to talk and research together about the symbols. I took some pictures of the statue and will show those, then I can go through them.
This is the statue, for reference:
Here are the symbols on the corners of the statue and plaques on the front and back, starting from the southeast corner facing north (the back right corner facing left, in the picture), going counterclockwise. I gave them names of things that they remind me of, though those may not prove to be the true meaning:
(back of fountain, "BYU Beehive Foundation - 1914 / Wallace A. and JoAnn A. Raynor Family")
(front of fountain, "BYU Beehive Fountain - 1914 / foundation in Memory of the / John Lycurgus Johnson Family"
Okay, now that we have all eight of the symbols, we can start to decipher them. Guppy of doom found this article from the BYU High School website, which seems to be the best website on the subject. The article doesn't cite its sources except for this one about the artist Andrew Brimhall's life (of which I've read just the first section), but seems to have gotten that pretty first-hand. Originally, the statue was actually a fountain, but, just like the fountain built there a few years previous, it had problems especially in the winter months, and in the 1950's was drained and made into a planter with flowers, and then more recently filled with nice rocks. The article also says that the fountain's symbols are Aztec symbols. Because of this, the fountain was sometimes even called the "Aztec Fountain". Also, originally, there was an Aztec symbol that was a backward swastika, and that was removed during a renovation in the year 2000.
I can actually go through each symbol and show a similar Aztec sign for the ones that I think are Aztec.
The eagle and hourglass shapes appear here as the lime green bird and brown bettle.. Looking at it, I don't think that is an hourglass, and I would guess it is an approximation of two beetles, based off of what I have looked at.
The Hanab Ku is a Mayan symbol that looks similar to the spiral and stairs. Although similar steps and sometimes spirals are found in Aztec culture, some of these symbols may also just be mayan.
The sun is a pretty obvious symbol in Aztec culture, but the faucet symbol was kind of confusing me until I realized that there is a part that is a little bit rubbed off on the top (the left side of the used-staple shape on top), and it is actually symmetrical, making it look like the symbol for the sun god. Both the sun (middle ring) and sun god (center) are shown in their calendar:
The sun god is a little clearer here:
Also, if you're wondering what the old swastika symbol looked like, it may have looked like the Aztec swastika (pictured here) or the Navajo one. There's a lot of information of religious use of the swastika on the Wikipedia page.
Now the ones that remain are the 96 and the menorah.
The 96 is likely a tribute to the original fountain before the beehive fountain which was completed in 1896. For the menorah, I would imagine the menorah that it just represents Judaism. Guppy of doom and I were talking about the possible reasons why Andrew Brimhall would have designed it this way, and it seems to pay tribute to the Native American and Jewish heritage of Utah. Now, going beyond that, I think would mostly be speculation on meaning, and my thought is that the fountain displays a sort of New Zion/Old Zion theme, with the fountain and beehive springing up from Jewish and Book of Mormon roots.
Thanks for the question!
Spooklings and guppy of doom