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Nebraska State Capitol

Lincoln, NE

House of Representatives (West Legislative Chamber) beams below ceiling

Age of Settlement; Successive appearance of the Spanish, French, and Anglo-Americans upon the soil of Nebraska, 1932

Commissioned by: Mayers, Murray & PhillipIconographer: Hartley Burr AlexanderArtistic Collaborator: Hartley Burr AlexanderMedium: gold leaf on walnutExecuted by: Rambusch

House of Representatives (West Legislative Chamber) beams below ceiling

House of Representatives (West Legislative Chamber) beams below ceiling

Hildreth Meière worked closely with Hartley Burr Alexander in designing the 250-foot gold-leaf frieze that runs along the walnut beams below the ceiling in the House of Representatives, known today as the West Legislative Chamber. The original plan called for the ceiling to be decorated in glazed ceramic tile like that of the Senate Chamber to the east, but the expanse was too large to accommodate the weight of the tile.1

Alexander devised an iconography depicting the Age of Settlement to balance the ceiling design of Native American Life on the Plains in the Senate Chamber. Meière depicted the Successive appearance of the Spanish, French, and Anglo-Americans upon the soil of Nebraska in a series of vignettes: Coronado Discovers the Prairies 1541, Sievr de Bourgmond [sic] at the Platte 1714; and Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804 on the south frieze.

Coronado Discovers the Prairies 1541

Coronado Discovers the Prairies 1541

Sievr de Bourgmond [sic] at the Platte 1714

Sievr de Bourgmond [sic] at the Platte 1714

Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804 on south frieze

Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804 on south frieze

On the north frieze, she designed scenes representing United States Survey, the Coming of the Cattlemen, and the Homesteaders.

United States Survey

United States Survey

The Coming of the Cattlemen

The Coming of the Cattlemen

The Homesteaders

The Homesteaders

Meière succeeded in conveying movement in her monochromatic procession of figures. By overlapping man and beast she gave her vignettes depth. Ropes and lassos help energize the composition. Meière’s use of dark walnut to model her figures adds a richness and solidity to a procession that would otherwise read as a two-dimensional silhouette.

Meière was not in Lincoln when Rambusch craftsmen painted her frieze onto the beams. Months later, Alexander wrote to say that the craftsmen had accidentally reversed the sequence of Meière’s designs. She was devastated. It was the first time she had thrown away her cartoons, so it was not possible to correct the mistake. Alexander reassured her:

The whole business. . . shows how important it is that the artist be on the ground when a thing is executed. Undoubtedly you would have modified the design somewhat. There is a difference in scale in the figures on the crossbeams and those in the frieze, which makes them look smaller than necessary. The decorative effect is handsome, but the thing does not read as it should. . . . However, all said, people generally like the room better than any in the Capitol.2

After Nebraska became unicameral in 1937, the House of Representatives became known as the West Legislative Chamber and is where the Nebraska state legislature meets today.

1

For a full discussion, see Catherine Coleman Brawer, Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière (St. Bonaventure, New York: St. Bonaventure University, 2009): 38-39.

2

Hartley Burr Alexander, letter to Meière, December 18, 1932, Hartley Burr Alexander Papers, Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College, Claremont, California.

Commission Location

Emblem

Nebraska State Capitol
1445 K Street
Lincoln, NE 68509

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