Gargoyles may be the perfect marriage of art and function. The sculptures cleverly disguise pipes or troughs that spew rainwater away from building exteriors and foundations. And as a subsection of grotesques -- fantastic architectural creatures -- there are no rules for what they may look like.
The Washington National Cathedral's spirited collection of gargoyles and other grotesques -- the nation's largest grouping of such carvings -- is the subject of the recently published "Guide to Gargoyles and Other Grotesques" by Wendy True Gasch. Gasch, a Washington native, lays out the gargoyles' place in the story of the world's sixth-largest cathedral, which took 83 years to complete. The 112 gargoyles were finished over 27 years beginning in 1960, and color photographs bring their towering figures up close.
If you've never been to the cathedral, the guidebook is a heavenly substitute for the carvings. Gasch documents each one's story, among them "Crooked Politician," "Gluttony," "Candid Cameraman," "Hippie," "Master Carver," and "Birdwatcher." Gasch organizes the section about the 1,130 grotesques by topics, among them angels, Noah's menagerie, co-workers, former girlfriends, and prophets.
The guidebook (119 pp., $12.95) is available at the cathedral's Museum Store and online at www.nationalcathedral.org.