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Nebraska State Capitol

Lincoln, NE

Vestibule dome

Gifts of Nature to Man on the Plains of Nebraska, 1925

Commissioned by: Bertram Grosvenor GoodhueIconographer: Hartley Burr AlexanderArtistic Collaborator: Hartley Burr AlexanderMedium: glazed ceramic tile set into acoustic tileExecuted by: R. Guastavino

Detail, vestibule dome, pendentives and arch soffits

Detail, vestibule dome, pendentives and arch soffits

For the vestibule dome, iconographer Hartley Burr Alexander directed Hildreth Meière to depict the Gifts of Nature to Man on the Plains of Nebraska in a “no period” or biblical style. Meière divided the vestibule dome into three concentric circles in the manner of a Byzantine dome1:

Pencil sketch showing placement of iconography on vestibule dome, pendentives, and arch soffits

Pencil sketch showing placement of iconography on vestibule dome, pendentives, and arch soffits

Vestibule dome, pendentives, and arch soffits in glazed ceramic tile

Vestibule dome, pendentives, and arch soffits in glazed ceramic tile

In the center, Meière depicted the sun in gold ceramic tile, from which radiate jagged gold rays. The sun at the center of the dome relates to the depiction of a Cosmic Sun symbolizing Creation, executed in marble on the floor directly below.2

Detail of sun at center of dome

Detail of sun at center of dome

Detail of Cosmic Sun on floor below

Detail of Cosmic Sun on floor below

For the middle circle of the dome, Meière designed four panels with gold grounds depicting personifications of the Four Seasons. These panels alternate with smaller gold-edged panels with red grounds containing four signs of the Zodiac— Cancer, Libra, Aries, and Capricorn:

Detail, vestibule dome, pendentives and arch soffits

Detail, vestibule dome, pendentives and arch soffits

Spring

Spring

Cancer

Cancer

Summer

Summer

Libra

Libra

Fall

Fall

Aries

Aries

Winter

Winter

Capricorn

Capricorn

On the dome’s outer circle, Meière depicted eight narrative vignettes in gold-edged panels representing the First Fruits of the Soil: cattle, sheep, swine, maize, wheat, grasses, fruit, and flowers. These scenes are separated by alternating images of classical temples and altars. Along the rim an inscription reads: “Behold they come as householders bringing earth’s first fruits, rejoicing that the soil hath rewarded their labors with the abundance of the season.”3

Detail of maize from First Fruits of the Soil in outer circle

Detail of maize from First Fruits of the Soil in outer circle

Fruit

Fruit

Maize

Maize

Flowers

Flowers

Grasses

Grasses

Sheep

Sheep

Swine

Swine

Wheat

Wheat

Cattle

Cattle

On the pendentives, Meière represented Plowing, Sowing, Cultivating and Reaping, and on the arch soffits, Native Animals and Birds.

Detail of Sowing on pendentive, swine on dome, and Native Animals and Birds on arch soffits

Detail of Sowing on pendentive, swine on dome, and Native Animals and Birds on arch soffits

Meière worked collaboratively with Goodhue and R. Guastavino to set her designs of colorful, glazed ceramic tile into Guastavino’s structural, acoustic tile of the dome. In order not to affect the dome’s acoustic properties, Meière was forced to leave half of the dome’s surface undecorated. She solved the problem by creating an all-over design of narrative vignettes enclosed within panels. Each panel is surrounded by rows of Guastavino’s beige acoustic tile. As a result, Meière’s design appears to cover the entire dome, when it actually covers less than half.

Detail of wheat in panel surrounded by beige acoustic tile

Detail of wheat in panel surrounded by beige acoustic tile

She segmented each of her figures into irregularly shaped pieces of colored tile:4

We cut down the underglaze painting to a minimum and my designs are built up of irregularly shaped tiles, like a picture puzzle, or the early stained glass, with a cement seam instead of leading. The result is rather bold, but given height, at the relief of much plain surface around it, the result is glittering and magnificent. Each tile is set by hand, so that there is no mechanical, dead surface anywhere, and the light plays over it happily, as over good mosaics.5
Detail of swine on outer circle showing figures in profile

Detail of swine on outer circle showing figures in profile

Meière thoroughly understood the limitations of the medium for which she was designing and knew how to compensate by showing her figures in profile:

I am always trying to remember the medium—and not get into something where the real meaning will be marred by the coarseness of the tile—I am after something that will interpret perfectly . . . tile being so two-dimensional, the most successful designs are those that show a profile.6
1

For a full discussion, see Catherine Coleman Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik, The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière (New York: Andrea Monfried Editions, 2014): 60-63.

2

Hartley Burr Alexander, Nebraska State Capitol: “Synopsis of Decorations and Inscriptions,” unpublished ms., n.d., Office of the Capitol Commission, Nebraska Capitol Collections, RG01 S02 B11 F36, p. 17.

3

Alexander, “Synopsis,” p. 16.

4

See R. Guastavino, letter to Capitol Commission, June 26, 1924, Office of the Capitol Commission, Nebraska Capitol Collections, RG1 S1 B70 F19.

5

Hildreth Meière, “Distinguished Artist Comes Home for Visit: Miss Hildreth Meière Tells of the Interesting Work in which She Is Engaged,” Women’s City Club Magazine (San Francisco) 1:2 (March 1927): 11.

6

Meière, letter to Hartley Burr Alexander, January 3, 1926, 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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