Hartley Burr Alexander

Hartley Burr Alexander (1873 -1934)

Hartley Burr Alexander
(1873 -1934)

Hildreth Meière (1892-1961), 1956

Hildreth Meière
(1892-1961), 1956

With the death of architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in 1924, philosopher and Native American ethnologist Hartley Burr Alexander became Hildreth Meière’s mentor. She relied upon Alexander to provide her with iconography to depict at the Nebraska State Capitol, and she also depended upon him to critique her designs:

...I have never worked with a greater sense of real creative joy, or belief in the importance of what I was doing. This was due to the greatness of the building, and the inspiration of Mr. Goodhue, and after his death, that of Dr. Hartley Burr Alexander. I do not know to what extent the people of Nebraska realize how much the Capitol owes to [the] imagination, judgment, extraordinary education and tireless energy and enthusiasm of Dr. Alexander. I do not know whether his connection with the work was an official one, but it was he who wrote the inscriptions, worked out the symbolism of all the sculpture and decorations, and passing also on [sculptor Lee] Lawrie’s first sketches, actually directing mine. Nothing of mine was completed without his approval, and many of my panels were restudied time and again until he felt that they were the best I could do. I had absolute confidence in him, and rightly so, for as far as I know, he was always right. I think he is the only man, who, after Goodhue’s death, saw the Capitol as a whole, and with that singleness of vision, he was able to hold Mr. Lawrie’s work and mine into that unity with the architecture itself which alone makes successful enrichment. That the sculpture and structural decorations mean something, and make the building philosophically and intellectually interesting as well as beautiful, is thanks to him.1

Like Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Alexander saw Meière’s designs as integral to the architecture of a building. She, too, believed that if her decoration could be removed without hurting the design of a building, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.2 Meière told Alexander that as a result of working with him, she was “so trained to try to express a thought in design that I find it almost impossible to begin anything until I know what it is all about.”3

Meière’s friendship with Alexander extended beyond their decade-long collaboration at the Nebraska State Capitol. She continued to seek his guidance as she designed decoration for commissions in New York and sent him sketches of her work for Radio City Music Hall and One Wall Street. Long after Alexander’s death in 1934, Meière remained true to his unifying approach to a building’s iconography. Her ability to unify an architectural space by treating her designs for different areas of a building as part of a whole became Meière’s trademark.

1

Hildreth Meière, letter to Mrs. Shellenberger, Sept 9, 1930 , Hartley Burr Alexander Papers, Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College, Claremont, California.

2

Mary Kimbrough, “She Finds an Education in Her Art,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 14, 1955.

3

Hildreth Meière, letter to Hartley Burr Alexander, June 28, 1932, HBA Papers.