Esto Perpetua

Linda Burton posting from Boise, Idaho – “She’s on the 4th floor,” I was told by the gift shop manager, and I headed for the elevator right away, eager to visit Nike of Samothrace, aka The Winged Victory. I already knew the story of this 11-foot-high replica-of-a-statue-depicting-a-goddess who sits in the Idaho State Capitol; today I’m here for pictures. She is a heroic figure, even though her head is missing and so are her arms. Her pose conveys a sense of action and triumph; her wings are extended as though descending from the sky; her draped garments appear to be rippling, as though in a strong sea breeze. I got several shots, from either side. I’ve read that the original marble was created in (about) 300 BC to honor not only the goddess Nike, but to honor a sea battle too; sculptor unknown. Now one of the most celebrated statues in the world, Nike was lost for centuries; then discovered in 1863; and has stood in the Louvre since 1884. So how did this plaster replica wind up in Boise, Idaho?

Go back to WWII. When the war ended, American citizens sent food, clothing, medicine and other supplies to the people of France, which had been devastated, as you know. In 1949, the citizens of France said “thank you,” that is, “Merci” by sending 49 boxcars – one for each state and the District of Columbia – packed full of artwork and other unique treasures. Idaho’s boxcar arrived February 22, 1949, and one of those items was, you guessed it, The Winged Victory. She was placed in the state capitol and there she is today, a reminder of a gesture of kindness, and good will.

Around the curving balcony, I came upon the Senate Gallery where a dazzling blue carpet in the entry caught my eye. In the center of the carpet a sleeked-down version of the current Idaho State Seal showed a female figure of justice on the left, a male figure dressed in miner’s clothing on the right, and strategically placed mountains and rivers and symbols of plenty, with the words Esto Perputua (May it endure forever) at the top.

The modern look of it led me to another story. Did you know that the Idaho State Seal is the only Great Seal designed by a woman? Emma Edwards came to visit relatives in Boise in the summer of 1890, the same year that Idaho became a state. Emma was exceptionally well-educated; in fact she had just spent a year studying art in New York. Turns out she fell in love with Boise, and stayed; teaching art to the young pioneers of the community. And, as an art teacher, she was invited to enter a design for the Great Seal in this new state. Competing against artists from all over the country, she won, unanimously.

The First Legislature awarded an honorarium of $100, which was presented to her by Governor Norman Willey on March 5, 1891; the Seal was formally adopted on March 14. Emma’s original painting hangs in the capitol today; exquisite details showing the mindset of the times. In her own words, “I was careful to make a thorough study of the resources and future possibilities of the State….The question of Woman Suffrage was being agitated somewhat, and as leading men and politicians agreed that Idaho would eventually give women the right to vote, and as mining was the chief industry, and the mining man the largest financial factor of the state at that time, I made the figure of the man the most prominent in the design, while that of the woman, signifying justice, as noted by the scales; liberty, as denoted by the liberty cap on the end of the spear, and equality with man as denoted by her position at his side, also signifies freedom.”

In 1957, the 34th session of the Idaho legislature authorized the updating of the Great Seal in order to more clearly define Idaho’s main industries, as well as to highlight the state’s natural beauty. Paul Evans colorized and streamlined Emma’s original design, and added a border, but Emma’s basic concept remains the state’s official seal.

I caught a flurry of excitement when I reached the second floor; a bride, about to take her wedding vows, about to descend the curving marble staircase; like Nike, was my poetic thought, graceful and strong; like Emma, thoughtful and smart. From the conversation I could tell that she was in the fray, and yet above it too; her son held the lace-covered pillow with the rings attached, tied safely with blue ribbon knots. “How will you get those off?” I asked; “It’s simple,” she replied, and quickly slipped one loose, and then retied. The best man was running late, but she was unperturbed. “It’s okay,” she assured her sisters, who waved blue-paper sunflowers back and forth impatiently. “I’ve got to pee,” said one, so down the hall they went, and I am nervous, I admit. “Goodbye Amy,” I said, “and Happy Marriage. I wish you all the best!” Esto Perpetua!

I took the elevator Down. I got more pictures than I planned; a good day, overall.