Looking back, I’m glad our tour of the Nebraska State Capitol was only 45 minutes long and restricted to the Great Hall. Had I seen more, I may have lost my mind. As I left, I judged it the most impressive and perhaps most beautiful state capitol building. After I had time to think about it, however, it shrank somewhat in significance. Oh, it impressed me, no doubt about that, but it’s something of a mess. Later, a man in another capitol, Wyoming’s, called it art deco. It’s not.
Its architect, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, called his design classical. It was constructed during the art deco period and the building does have some deco details, but it also has details from every period and movement before Art Deco and after it. Bert was born in Connecticut. When he began to study design, he doted on Gothic. By the time he had his own firm in 1914, he was finding the Gothic style confining and was looking to Europe for something new and classical. He believed that viewers of his designs should be inspired and enriched but not feel enclosed. This might explain the Nebraska State Capitol’s over-the-topness. Many consider this building the best of Goodhue’s career.
Goodhue was the winner of a design competition to build the 3rd Nebraska state capitol building. The first was a rather ordinary looking brick building. According to Wikipedia, the 2nd had “structural issues, especially in its foundation.” Oops! This led to the competition to build a third, which turned out to be unusual because it was a tower that looked rather art decoish. One guide to this New-York-style skyscraper said that its eventual detailing came from many styles and periods–Assyrian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Gothic. Indeed and Amen.
The design team included Thomas Rogers Kimball, the only true Nebraskan involved. A Professor of Philosophy, Kimball was called this building’s thematic consultant for capitol symbolism. He moved on from the University of Nebraska to Cripps College in Claremont, CA, where he remained until he died.
The Nebraska State Capitol building team had an official sculptor, Lee Lawrie. One of his creations is the 19-foot sower atop its dome. “Neither Native American nor Pioneer” according to one capitol guide, the sower is an “ancient figure representing agriculture as the source for all civilization”. I was glad to see a few farmers among the mosaics, murals and eclectic artworks in the Great Hall. The Roman-looking mosaics in its floor were designed by Hildreth Meiere, considered an important artist and art deco muralist. It was no surprise to me that one of her commissions was Radio City Music Hall.
The mural below was inspired by the great Nebraska blizzard of 1888. Our guide told us that the person emerging from the glittery snow is a teacher guided by a Native American Spirit. See them?