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Nebraska State Capitol

Lincoln, NE

Foyer ceiling medallions

Traditions of the Past; Life of the Present; Ideals of the Future, 1927

Commissioned by: Bertram Goodhue AssociatesIconographer: Hartley Burr AlexanderArtistic Collaborator: Hartley Burr AlexanderMedium: glazed ceramic tileExecuted by: R. Guastavino

Foyer looking toward rotunda with medallions crowning foyer bays

Foyer looking toward rotunda with medallions crowning foyer bays

To correspond with the black and white floor medallions in marble mosaic denoting the Spirits of the Soil, Vegetation, and Animal Life, Meière designed three ceiling medallions for the foyer domes in which Sibylline figures represent Traditions of the Past, Life of the Present, and Ideals of the Future. The medallions are executed in colorful, glazed ceramic tile set into R. Guastavino’s structural beige acoustic tile of the domes.1

Iconography of foyer ceiling

Iconography of foyer ceiling

Meière presented iconographer and artistic mentor Hartley Burr Alexander with several options for the ceiling medallions, which he judged for “beauty and saliency,” “symbolic clearness,” and “sequence.” Alexander commented that some of the most beautiful sketches did not work symbolically; others did not work as a sequence. He chose the series that he liked best because it was the “most sibylline” and told Meière, “The symbolic sequence of the Recorder, the Spinner, and Foreseer—[holding] Book, Distaff, [and] Crystal,—I think is capital, and with it I do not believe that [any] inscription is necessary.”2

Traditions of the Past

Traditions of the Past

Life of the Present

Life of the Present

Ideals of the Future

Ideals of the Future

Meière continued to submit revised versions of each figure to Alexander, who critiqued them in great detail. To achieve the effect he sought in Life of the Present, he told her that the figure of the boy was not right:

...you will see in your Spinner an image of action, not dramatic, but serene and forthright,—just what the work of the Present should be. But the boy is in complete repose. He neither turns from the Past nor looks toward the Future; he is just sitting down to rest—a pose which has nothing to do with the symbolism of life’s meaning...It seems to me, to make this image right, the boy must be as intrinsic in the symbol as the Spinner, and certainly his pose should not belie hers...My suggestion is that you [try] raising his hand—the inner one, near the distaff—in attitude suggesting attention. Do not raise the arm, although the forearm should not seem to be resting upon something, but just the hand—enough to suggest anticipation of motion. I think the outer leg would have to be modified also, into a more alert ready-to-move attitude, probably by drawing it up...I am convinced that you can get the right effect in the boy’s pose alone probably by very slight changes, and you will then have as fine a symbolic unity in this tondo as now you have in its decorative quality.3

Meière’s corrections to the boy’s pose are evident in the final version of the medallion.

Figure of boy corrected to suggest action in Life of the Present

Figure of boy corrected to suggest action in Life of the Present

In addition to her three medallions in the center of the foyer ceiling, Meière designed four panels at the base of the vaults supporting the center dome of the foyer that represent Labor, Public Spirit, Law, and Religion.

1

See Hartley Burr Alexander, “Nebraska State Capitol: ’Synopsis of Decorations and Inscriptions,’” unpublished ms., n.d., Office of the Capitol Commission, Nebraska Capitol Collections, RG01 S)2 B11 F36, p. 17. See also Catherine Coleman Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik, The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière (New York: Andrea Monfried Editions, 2014): 63.

2

Alexander, letter to Meière, February 4, 1926, Hartley Burr Alexander Papers, Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College, Claremont, California.

3

Alexander, letter to Meière, March 1, 1926, HBA Papers.

Commission Location

Emblem

Nebraska State Capitol
1445 K Street
Lincoln, NE 68509

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