‘A+ Capitol Posts’ Category

 

As Pretty As Ours

20 capitol frontLinda Burton posting from Springfield, Illinois – The grass was so green it commanded my attention. The sweet smell of spring hedge assailed my senses the minute I stepped from the car; the grass added a visual blast; wow, what did the groundskeeper do to get such green? The wind sent my hat sailing; I chased it across the lawn, wanting to stop and sit right in the middle of that luscious grass. But I plopped it back onto my head, secured the string, and kept walking; I had a purpose. Past the statue of Stephen Douglas, up a few steps, into the doors of the building that has served as this state’s capitol since 1877. The two men at security waved me towards Xray; “Where are you from?” one 20 capitol enteringasked as my bag went through. I told them about the Journey. “This is my thirty-first capitol,” I said. “Is any other one as pretty as ours?” inquired the one whose badge told me he was Fred. “Well, you’ve got the best grass I’ve ever seen!” I laughed. “We’ve got the highest dome,” he said. “It is 74 feet higher than the national capitol.” “It’s shaped like a Greek cross,” Robert added, “and it is the sixth capitol we’ve had. The first was in Kaskaskia.” Fred picked up a 20 domebrochure; “It cost $4,315,591 to build,” he read, “and they used 3.4 million pounds of cast iron in it.” “You guys aren’t Security, you’re PR,” I told them; “where should I start?” They directed me straight ahead, across the rotunda to the Visitor Desk. “And look up,” Fred urged. “There are 9,000 pieces of stained glass in the dome.” I walked past the open-armed statue of Illinois Welcoming The World, and looked up. » read more

 
 
 

An April Afternoon

08 lincoln by chairLinda Burton posting from Frankfort, Kentucky – Where can you find statues honoring Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in the same room? The answer is the rotunda of the state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky. The bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln stands 14 feet high; his hand rests on a chair; the toe of his shoe, which protrudes slightly from the marble base, is worn to a shine from the hands of admiring passersby. The Lincoln statue occupies the center of the rotunda; just beyond his right shoulder, against the towering marble wall, stands the statue of Jefferson Davis; not nearly so grand in scale or position, yet in keeping with statues of others honored in the space 08 davis minethat welcomes all to the Kentucky capitol. “Kentucky played a pivotal role in the Civil War,” I read in the brochure I’d picked up at the front desk. “Both the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis (1808-1889), and Union President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) were born in Kentucky. The war that pitted state against state and brother against brother was perhaps best represented in Kentucky as portions of the state 08 lincoln w kidsupported the efforts of the Confederacy while others supported the efforts of the Union.” (Kentucky was a “border state” during the war; one of four slave states that never seceded; Delaware, Maryland and Missouri were the others). I leaned against the wall to get my bearings and noticed a young boy by the Lincoln statue, hand resting on top of the pedestal. Was he part of a school group? “I’ll bet he just rubbed the toe for luck,” I smiled, as I began to study the brochure. There were three floors to explore, housing all three branches of Kentucky state government. I stared at the opulence above my head; it made me think of France. » read more

 
 
 

One Two Three

30 capitol frontLinda Burton posting from Charleston, West Virginia – Imagine building a house with 333 rooms. When you stand in front of the West Virginia State Capitol, you have to think about that. How did Cass Gilbert do it, back in the early 30’s? More’s the question, how did he manage to finish the monumental project on time, and under budget? It seems he used a simple principle – he broke a huge task into smaller parts; as easy as one, two, three. Cass Gilbert (1859-1934) had a well-established reputation when he was selected to design a capitol for West Virginia. Born in Ohio and educated at MIT, he lived in Minneapolis for many years; he designed a number of buildings there and was commissioned to design the Minnesota State Capitol in 1895. That wow-factored his name so much he moved his operations to New York, where he became a celebrity architect. He designed the Woolworth Building there; it was the world’s tallest building when it 30 cass cwas built in 1913; his technique for cladding a steel frame became the model for decades. He designed campus buildings in Texas and train stations in Connecticut and the US Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC. West Virginia was in crisis need for a new capitol when the Capitol Building Commission selected Cass Gilbert on July 23, 1921. The West Virginia capitol had mysteriously caught fire and burned beyond use on January 3 of that year; government operations were moved to a temporary building dubbed “the pasteboard capitol.” Cass Gilbert and the Commission began to search for a suitable site for the permanent construction. By the end of December the location was settled and Gilbert began the master plan. » read more

 
 
 

Sophisticated Simplicity

15 washington rotundaLinda Burton posting from Richmond, Virginia – If you want to know what George Washington really looked like, go to the Virginia state capitol. Centered in the rotunda against the simplicity of a formal backdrop of black and white stands a life-size statue of Washington, considered by his contemporaries to be “a perfect likeness.” It was June 1784 when the Virginia General Assembly commissioned the statue to be made; Thomas Jefferson, on a diplomatic mission in France, secured the services of French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon for the work. Houdon didn’t guess at his task; in the fall of 1785 he traveled to Mount Vernon to study his subject. He made a plaster mask of Washington’s head and took detailed measurements of his body; from this he modeled a terra cotta bust to take back to his workshop in France. 15 washington cThe resulting statue, carved of Carrara marble, was shipped to America in 1796 and has graced the capitol’s rotunda since. It is considered to be Virginia’s greatest treasure and one of the world’s finest portrait sculptures; it is the only full-length statue for which the first President posed. Although Washington’s sword is by his side and he wears his Revolutionary uniform, he 15 statue and rotundacarries a civilian walking cane and stands over a plough; Houdon sought to show the balance between Washington’s life as a soldier, statesman, and private citizen. In the niches of the rotunda are busts of other Virginia-born presidents who succeeded Washington – Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Wilson – and another work by Houdon; that of LaFayette, the French citizen who was a Major General in service to the United States during the Revolutionary War. But more about the rotunda itself, a magnificent two-story space capped by a dome; a dome that is invisible from the outside. » read more

 
 
 

Sunday in the Park with George

03 sunday parkLinda Burton posting from Raleigh, North Carolina – Stephen Sondheim (b 1930) is an accomplished American composer best known for his contributions to musical theater. In 1984 he and James Lapine put together a Broadway production called Sunday in the Park with George. It opened to mixed reviews, but in the end, wound up winning a Pulitzer Prize for drama, two Tony Awards for design, the 1991 Olivier Award for Best Musical, and the 2007 Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production. The play was inspired by a painting called A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, done by George Seurat (1859-1891), a French Post-Impressionist painter. It took George two years to complete this 10-foot-wide piece that shows members of different social classes participating in various 03 george 5park activities on a Sunday afternoon; he devised an innovative technique for it called “pointillism,” using tiny juxtaposed dots of color, rather than physically blending the colors on canvas. Very different in its day, and as you might guess, the painting “opened to mixed reviews;” today however it is recognized as a work that altered the direction of modern art. So what does this have to do with Raleigh, North Carolina? I’m about to tell you the story of Antonio Canova (1757-1822), an Italian sculptor, and the controversial statue he did of George Washington (1732-1799) that sits in the rotunda of the North Carolina capitol today. It wasn’t meant to be controversial, of course, and what you see today isn’t what Canova did in 1820; but, well, I’d better start from the beginning to explain. » read more

 
 
 

The Best Laid Plans

15 capitol side angleLinda Burton posting from Columbia, South Carolina – How long does it take to build a State House? When you’ve been around as long as South Carolina, it might take a while. South Carolina was one of the Thirteen Colonies, you know, and was the first to declare independence from the British Crown (March 26, 1776) when it adopted the “Constitution of South Carolina” and became the first republic in America. But that didn’t last long; it was also the first to ratify the initial governing document of the United States, the Articles of Confederation (February 5, 1778). It was the 8th state to come into the Union (May 23, 1788) and the first state to secede from that same Union (December 20, 1860). After a costly war that killed more than a third of the state’s male population, it was readmitted to the Union June 25, 1868. Where, and in what buildings, did 15 star on wallall these important statehood decisions take place? As I walked around the grounds of the State House in use today, I saw bronze stars noting Civil War cannon damage, plaques identifying the building’s architects, and a 1976 National Historic Landmark designation. A lot of history here, and, I learned, a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes even the best-laid plans have to change. » read more

 
 
 

But I Tell You What

06 shiny domeLinda Burton posting from Atlanta, Georgia – The paint is peeling and the steps are worn. Aside from the numerous oil portraits propped on handsome brass supports, it’s rather plain inside, confusing expectations. After all, the Georgia State Capitol has a dome of shimmering gold, and sits in the middle of high-rise urban glitterati and international trade. But I tell you what, there was nothing plain about what was going on inside today. This old house was alive with people; the Georgia Assembly was hot and heavy into its 40-day session; school buses from all over the state provided a steady stream of students ready for a first-hand look at government in action; side rooms and hallways housed various-agenda groups; cables and cameras were strung all over 06 posing girlsthe place, recording events of the day; and everywhere, cell-phone photos captured the moment. Everyone but me was wearing a badge or a bit of apparel stating purpose – I rode the elevator with Senator Gloria Butler, according to her badge, and chatted in the halls with award-winning students from Skills USA. I was greeted in the Governor’s Office by friendly staff, who invited me to sign the guest book and explained that the artwork is changed frequently 06 governor officeto give exposure to as many Georgia artists as possible. Yes, the Governor’s Office, and that of the Secretary of State, are right by the front door, with glass hallway windows giving everyone who enters the building a glimpse inside. This 1889 building was constructed to highlight the democratic ideal of “transparency in government;” its upper floors are a surround-space of clear glass windows that flood the building with light; glass tiles in the rotunda floor originally allowed light to continue down to the basement area. » read more

 
 
 

Story Telling Time

23 staircaseLinda Burton posting from Montgomery, Alabama – The prettiest thing in the Alabama state capitol is the spiral staircase. At least, that’s my opinion; I had to stop the minute I entered the door and look up, in wonder. It is stunning, and mysterious. And then I noticed there are two; a pair of cantilevered spiral staircases graces the entrance hall, curving upwards for three stories in simple elegance, one of the building’s finest architectural features. This capitol was in use by 1851; the story goes the staircases were built by Horace King, a slave who was freed in 1846. Horace was 23 staircase downknown in Alabama, and surrounding states, for his talent as a bridge builder; because of this the Alabama legislature passed a special law exempting him from the state’s manumission laws, which required freed slaves to leave the state within a year of gaining their freedom. So Horace stayed, and after the Civil War he got into politics; serving two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives, in the building he helped design and build. The Alabama capitol is full of stories, as is true of any building of this many years. Two 23 hall to stairof the most famous are its use during the Civil War, as it briefly served as capitol of the Confederate States before that seat of government moved to Richmond; and its use as a destination point during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. Today I was looking for stories; I’d heard about the murals so I headed for the second floor; I knew that much of the history of Alabama was displayed beneath the dome. Another story behind that; artist Roderick MacKenzie lived in an Alabama orphanage for a time. A freed slave and an orphan, two men whose creativity became part of the Alabama story. » read more

 
 
 

Open For Business

Linda Burton posting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana Merry Christmas glows red on the electronic board behind the President’s chair in the Louisiana Senate Chambers. Seasons Greetings follows below, in green. The time and date and the Louisiana state seal shine brightly in the middle; the senator’s names are listed on either side of the sign. Through the open door I see red-striped flags, pots of red poinsettias, and wreaths with red bows; all surrounded by soaring square columns in a dark exotic sturdiness. Splendid is the word that comes to mind; it’s the shine, the color, the richness of the look. The House Chambers are closed for a while; major renovation work is going on. But that’s okay, there is plenty to see in stunning Memorial Hall; handpainted murals in glowing colors; white marble statuary, double life-sized; filigreed bronze chandeliers; the Senate Chambers to the left; and just beyond the centered Christmas tree, the flags. I counted twelve in all, hanging over the bronze elevator doors. I boarded the elevator with a crowd; a mix of state employees and others like me, just visiting. It’s clear, the Louisiana state capitol is open for business. » read more

 
 
 

Out Of The Ordinary

Linda Burton posting from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – There are two out-of-the-ordinary things about the Oklahoma state capitol. No other state capitol once had a working oil well on its front lawn named Petunia. And no other state capitol sat without a dome for 85 years, and then added one. It was designed to have a dome, but budget overruns forced a change of plans. “How can we save money?” became the pressing question; postponing the dome was the most logical answer. When the capitol was officially opened for business June 30, 1917, ten years into statehood, it had an almost flat roof. Inside an inverted bowl-shaped construction decorated with a painted plaster seal did faux-dome duty. Fast forward to 2001. With private donations in the coffer, the time for the doming of the capitol had arrived; workers removed the two million pounds of brick and concrete that made up the old flat roof. Because the original plans called for a dome, the existing building was ready to carry the new five-million-pound construction; it was completed in 2002. Outside, it looks the way it was always meant to look. Inside, everything above a narrow purple ring is new construction, offering a visually stunning upward-sweeping view to a state seal now surrounded by shimmering glass. Beautiful! Now, about that oil well named Petunia. » read more