Friday, April 1, 2011

Nebraska State Capitol

The Competition

Okay. I will be the first to admit that whole books have been written about this building, much of that ink centering on it's sculpture program. But, why should I let that stop me from doing a blog as well? There are (to me) a surprising number of folks out there who have not heard about or seen this seminal structure. The first time I visited Lincoln, Nebraska I shot off a whole roll of slides with my camera set on the wrong ASA. The next time I drove down from Madison, Wisconsin for a wonderful visit, but it was all late evening and night. The last time I was there I had just gotten out of the hospital after a hernia operation in Toronto and my wife (and driver for that trip) came down with the mumps. So the Nebraska State Capitol has been a bit of a hard luck stop for me, but I think that I have enough pictures to do it justice. Hopefully some day my patron will show up and treat me to 36 hours of sunshine there, early morning, noon and later afternoon. Since the building has sculpture on all four sides catching the sun at one particular time of day is not going to be sufficient.

In 1919 the Nebraska state legislature decided that the state needed a new capitol building and gave Lincoln architect Thomas Kimbal the task of organizing a competition to select an architect. Although several Nebraska architectural firms entered the contest, the array of out-of-state talent must have been disheartening to them and made it unlikely that any of them would win. The record will show that none of them did.

From New York City came McKim, Mead & White, who although a little past their prime - Mead was the only principle still alive and he was never one of the firm's main designers, but with at least one state capital, Rhode Island, to their credit they could not be counted out. MM&W frequently used AA Weinman as their sculptor.

Tracy & Swartwout, were another NYC firm who had already notched a state capitol, Missouri, and who had used a number of sculptors on that commission, Fraser, Calder, O'Neil, Atkins, and more, but I think that it is worth a blog of its own, so I won't get into that one here.

The third New Yorker was John Russell Pope, whose signature works, largely in Washington D.C. were in the future, but he was still a force to be reckoned with. Weinman was sometimes his sculptor choice.

The final NYC entrant was H. Van Buren Magonigle, remembered for his collaboration with sculptor Attilio Piccirilli on New York's Maine Memorial.

Philadelphia's architect was Paul Cret, emerging champion of the new stripped down classicism style that was to morph into Art Deco shortly. Cret had used a variety of sculptors in the past, Gutzon Borglum, Konti, Bottiau and Weinman, though his preliminary design hinted at less architectural sculpture than some of the other designs.

The final competitor, and the winner, was Boston's Bertram Goodhue. Of al the designs submitted his alone lacked the classical elements, domes, colonnades and traditionally used sculpture that populated the others. And while the artists favored by the other architects tended to what were termed "fine arts" sculptors - ones who produced public monuments and portraits as well as the occasional architectural commission, his man, Lee Lawrie, was almost exclusively an architectural sculptor. American's best. To him fell the task of creating one of the most ambitious architectural sculpture schemes in history.

A note on my sources.The competition designs were borrowed from Luebke's "The Nebraska State Capitol: A Harmony of the Arts" University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1990. More will come later from Elinor L. Brown's ''Architectural Wonder of the World: Nebraska's State Capitol Building", State of Nebraska Building Division, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1978. As always I'd like to acknowledge my debt to Walt Lockley, part of the reson why can be found here.

There will be (another term for "might") more on sources later. eekxt.