The Library Garden of Symbols

The Garden of Symbols is a unique fountain with water seeping from two sandstone spires. It is surrounded by symbols of communication including ancient and modern alphabets. You can find the Garden of Symbols in the Sherratt Library by visiting the Garden Level, which is underneath the Main Level.

Garden of Symbols

This work was funded through the 1% for Art Program of the Utah Arts Council. The artist, selected in a national competition, was David Philips of Somerville, Massachusetts. The monoliths are local sandstone from Cedar Canyon. The sandstone panels are from a quarry at Torrey, Utah.


This hieroglyphic writing is from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a collection of spells that the ancients hoped would enable them to reach a pleasant abode in the next world. Texts of the Book of the Dead are typically found on rolls of papyrus or leather, generally arranged in vertical columns and most often written in simplified linear hieroglyphs or a "short-hand" hieratic script. These scrolls are found buried with a corps either beside it in the coffin, or actually inside mummy wrappings. Over 200 spells are now known; although no single scroll contains all of them. Some spells give the deceased power to revisit the earth, join the gods, or travel in the sky. Other spells are more personal, for example, some restored memory and others secured help in opening the mouth of the deceased to enable them to eat and breathe. To judge from the spells in the Book of the Dead, the ancient Egyptian believed in a life after death. If one were judged worthy, life would be patterned after life on earth with a possible return to earth.

The Chinese characters on this panel are a type commonly found on bronze vessels used anciently in the Far East. The type of writing pictured here is over 3,000 years old and is not readable today.

These Native American petroglyphs from Parowan Gap are among the finest in Utah. There are actually two groups of petroglyphs on the north side of the Gap, one near the east end and the largest one near the west end. While many of the drawings are at ground level, some extend quite high on the boulders and cliffs. All the figures are petroglyphs meaning they are pecked or incised into the rock and not painted. Most of the figures are geometric or abstract although there are some that have a familiar human shape. These human-like figures are known as anthropomorphs and are generally believed to be the work of Fremont Indians. There are hundreds of figures at this important archeological site. The Parowan Gap is easily reached by road just off of Utah Highway 130 between Enoch and Minersville.

This panel shows the ancient Greek alphabet, which was based on the Semitic. The Greeks introduced two important concepts with this script: addition of vowels to the alphabet and the convention of writing left to right. The earliest examples of this writing are found on pottery and clay. Of the three materials for permanent written records, the Greeks used papyrus and vellum (skin). Papyrus was the common medium for writing of books among the Greeks. It was made from a reedy plant grown in the delta region of the Nile. Papyrus text scrolls could be 150 feet in length. Vellum, which was also used, has many advantages over papyrus. Vellum is extremely durable, permits the codex, for book form, and makes possible erasure and rewriting. The Greeks also developed a means of saving and conveying writing in a less permanent form using waxed tablets. These tablets consisted of a smooth wooden surface about four by seven inches covered with black wax, bordered by a raised frame. The malleable wax allowed letters to be inscribed and then erased like a portable chalkboard. The sharp writing instruments used to mark the smooth surface was made of bone, bronze or ivory. The early script was in capital letters with few signs of punctuation and generally documents were not divided into paragraphs. Script on this panel is from a vellum codex.

Ancient writing on Easter Island, in the Pacific Ocean, was done on small wooden tablets made of driftwood or toromiro wood, which is indigenous to the island. The native traditions in regard to these small tablets assert that Hotu-Matua, the first king, introduced this script to his people. He came to Easter Island across the ocean from a distant land and brought with him the knowledge of this written language as well as sixty-seven tablets written in this script containing traditions, genealogical history and proverbs relating to the land from which he came. These tablets are cyriologic in which the words are represented by an actual picture rather than symbolic characters. The pictorial symbols are engraved in regular lines on depressed channels. There are about 500 different symbols on these tablets. In some cases the characters are small and the tablets contain a greater number of lines. In all cases the hieroglyphics are incised and cover both sides as well as the beveled edges of the board on which they are engraved. The symbols on each line are alternately reversed; those on the first stand upright, and those on the next line are upside down and so on in a regular pattern. The reader must turn the tablet at the end of every line. The language on the tablets is still undeciphered.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient texts that have been found in caves in the Judean wilderness west of the Dead Sea. The most famous are the remains of approximately 800 Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts that were found in 11 caves near the site call Qumran, several miles south of Jericho. It is believed that these scrolls formed the library of a Jewish community that lived in the area between 150 B.C. and 70 A.D. These scrolls include the oldest copies of nearly all books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The first cave to be discovered in modern times was found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947. Dating of the scrolls using carbon 14 and accelerator mass spectrometry estimates the older scrolls as having been written about 335 B.C. For some thirty years after the initial discoveries there was much debate and controversy over who should translate, publish and have access to the scrolls. It was not until 1993 that a complete general catalog of the Dead Sea Scrolls was published and the original texts and translations were readily available to the public.

Arabic writing from the Koran, the sacred book of the Muslims is on this panel. The Koran is a compilation of revelations delivered to the prophet Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. The book contains the prophetic utterances delivered over a period of twenty years. All of the utterances are relatively short. Each is made in a different context and was related to the changing circumstances of Mohammad's life. The sayings of Mohammad were collected and written down after Mohammad's death with no concern for chronological order. Parts of the same revelation may be widely separated in the pages of the book. Safeguarding the text of the Koran was the chief impetus to perfect the imprecise system of writing Arabic. As the very words of God, the Koran is the foremost authority for Muslims in all matter of faith and practice. They pay enormous reverence and preserve the contents exactly as they were received from the Prophet. The Koran is approximately the size of the New Testament. It is divided into 114 chapters, each called a surah. Each is further divided into short verses.

The brands represented in this panel were once or are currently being used on cattle, sheep and horses in southern Utah. Branding as a mark of ownership is an ancient practice even depicted in paintings on 4000-year old Egyptian tombs. The conquistador, Fernando Cortez used the shape of a cross to mark the small herd of cattle he brought with him to the New World. Mexican vaqueros passed the custom on to the earliest American cowboys who developed and refined the practice.

The Garden of Symbols also includes brands used by local herders and ranchers to distinguish their livestock.

This panel depicts one verse from the Gutenberg Bible published in 1455. This Bible edition is named for its printer Johann Gutenberg (139? - 1468) and is the first substantial piece of printing to issue from a European printing press featuring movable type. Gutenberg had early training as a goldsmith before he entered the printing trade in the 1430's. He later moved to Mainz and in 1448 he successfully demonstrated that printing from movable type was possible. With the financial backing of Johann Fust, a rich lawyer, Gutenberg printed his famous "42-line" bible (42 lines per column). Printing with movable type became one of the most important landmarks in the development of Western civilization. There are only 47 surviving copies of the Gutenberg bible, of which 12 were printed on vellum. Thirteen copies are in the United States and the copy owned by the Library of Congress is on display in Washington D.C. The text on panel 9 is John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

This panel illustrates both the language of Japanese poets and the beauty of modern Japanese calligraphy. Japanese poets have developed a written language based on Japanese characters to create poetry that is not only beautiful to hear but beautiful to see as well.

The poem on this panel reads:

A duck walking among the reeds
gets frost in its feathers.
The cold evening reminds me of my old country side.