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Nebraska State Capitol

Lincoln, NE

Vestibule dome arch soffits

Native Animals and Birds, 1925

Commissioned by: Bertram Grosvenor GoodhueIconographer: Hartley Burr AlexanderMedium: glazed ceramic tile set into acoustic tile

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.1 On the pendentives, Meière represented Plowing, Sowing, Cultivating and Reaping:

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

Native Animals and Birds in medallions adorn the soffits, or undersides of the arches:

Weasel

Weasel

Bison

Bison

Bager

Bager

Opossum

Opossum

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

Raccoon

Raccoon

Bear

Bear

Bobcat

Bobcat

Cougar

Cougar

Mallard duck

Mallard duck

Wolf

Wolf

Jack rabbit

Jack rabbit

Elk

Elk

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.

The same consideration led her to place her Native Animals and Birds on the arch soffits within medallions surrounded by beige acoustic tile:

Mallard duck

Mallard duck

She segmented each of her native creatures into irregularly shaped pieces of colored tile:2

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.3

Meière thoroughly understood the limitations of the medium for which she was designing and knew how to compensate by depicting each of the Native Animals and Birds 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.4
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

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

3

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.

4

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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