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Nebraska State Capitol

Lincoln, NE

Rotunda floor

Mother Nature Enthroned with Agriculture and Industry; Geniuses of the Waters, the Fire, the Earth, the Air, 1927

Commissioned by: Bertram Goodhue AssociatesIconographer: Hartley Burr AlexanderArtistic Collaborator: Erwin H. BarbourMedium: marble mosaic set into inlaid marbleExecuted by: De Paoli; Sunderland Brothers

Rotunda floor

Rotunda floor

Hildreth Meière’s floor decoration at the capitol culminates in the rotunda, where she used her Art Deco style to render classically-inspired figures. The focal point is a central medallion depicting Mother Nature Enthroned, with two female figures symbolizing Agriculture and Industry, upon whom she bestows life, on either side of her.

Mother Nature Enthroned with Agriculture and Industry

Mother Nature Enthroned with Agriculture and Industry

Mother Nature is surrounded by four smaller medallions depicting the Genius of the Waters, the Genius of the Fire, the Genius of the Air, and the Genius of the Earth. These medallions, in turn, are connected by guilloches, or interlaced bands, depicting appropriate forms of prehistoric life on the prairie in order of evolution for each element.1

Genius of the Waters

Genius of the Waters

Genius of the Fire

Genius of the Fire

Genius of the Air

Genius of the Air

Genius of the Earth

Genius of the Earth

In order to portray the prehistoric creatures for the guilloches accurately in marble mosaic, Meière relied upon a paleontologist from the University of Nebraska, Erwin H. Barbour. He provided her with delicately colored sketches upon which she based her designs.2

"Insecta Lepidoptera/ Butterfly (Prodryas)/ Oligocene" by Erwin Barbour, c. 1928. Nebraska Capitol Collections

"Insecta Lepidoptera/ Butterfly (Prodryas)/ Oligocene" by Erwin Barbour, c. 1928. Nebraska Capitol Collections

The New York firm De Paoli executed Meière’s designs in marble mosaic from her to-scale cartoons painted in gouache.

Genius of the Air, cartoon in gouache, with butterfly in upper left

Genius of the Air, cartoon in gouache, with butterfly in upper left

Genius of the Air in marble mosaic on rotunda floor, with butterfly in upper left

Genius of the Air in marble mosaic on rotunda floor, with butterfly in upper left

Leading into the rotunda are four panels representing the cardinal points. The panel to the north, leading from the foyer, represents Vital Energy, the life-giving forces of the universe; to the south: the Human Family (Existence), human life lifting itself up from the natural world; to the east: Capitoline Jove, representing the First Republic, the sire of mind and justice; and to the west, Athena and Erechtheus, symbolic of the mind issuing from the autochthonous world, and of a mind which could conceive of democracy.

1

See Catherine Coleman Brawer, Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière (St. Bonaventure, New York: St. Bonaventure University, 2009): 26-27, Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik, The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière (New York: Andrea Monfried Editions, 2014): 66-68.

2

For a description of the prehistoric creatures, see Neale Monks, “How Dinosaurs Came to the Nebraska State Capitol,” University of Nebraska State Museum, http://capitol.org/files/dinosaurs.pdf.

Commission Location

Emblem

Nebraska State Capitol
1445 K Street
Lincoln, NE 68509

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