Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Al and Connye Griffin
At this time of year, we pause to remember forefathers—the men and women on whose shoulders we stand. They dared open seas and dark forests to bring us to our current places. We should remember them for their courage and stamina.
On a bluff of Missouri limestone in Jefferson City stands a testament to those forefathers. It is Missouri’s third Capitol building, this one providing 500,000 square feet devoted to deliberation and heritage. The dome rises 262 feet from the basement floor and can be seen from every direction as people approach the State’s seat of government.
Missouri’s citizens approved funds to build the current building in 1911. When completed, the State had one million dollars above construction costs and decided to use tax money collected for a Capitol building to embellish the interior. Early twentieth century artists contributed “stained glass, murals, carvings and statuary portraying Missouri’s history, legends and cultural achievements.”
Years later, in 1935, Thomas Hart Benton, an artist from Missouri, received a commission from the House of Representatives to design and paint a mural depicting the social history of Missouri. He used his own experience growing up in Missouri. He also conducted research after receiving the commission. He “took part in hunting and fishing parties, political barbecues, and spoke with everyone from educated art critics to Ozark hillbillies in order to understand the Missourian spirit. He believed that the Midwest would be a driving force in the future, and through his mural, he wanted to capture this history in the making.”
Thirteen panels narrate the story of Missouri’s evolution from the first pioneers through tradesmen and settlers. Benton also tells the story of slavery, mining, turkey shoots, and driving Mormons from the State. Some of the artist’s attention to detail inspired opposition, but the four walls have survived threats to whitewash them. They are now a “source of pride.”
The second floor showcases the State’s resources and history in 40 half-moon shaped paintings. Many of these show the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that feed and define the State.
Exhibits in the west wing on the ground floor highlight the State’s culture or human resources and its natural resources above ground and below.
The east wing highlights the State’s history in exhibits that change every six months.
Also on the ground floor is the Great Seal of Missouri, designed in 1822 by Judge Robert Wells. It declares: Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.
Grizzly bears, symbols of bravery and strength, adorn the seal and staircases for the Capitol. They suggest the heart of those forefathers of whom we should be mindful at this time of year.