In nation’s capital, monumental changes at Statuary Hall
By PETER URBAN
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Big changes are afoot at the National Statuary Hall collection in the U.S. Capitol, as many states are updating their monuments to reflect the fact that the past need not be set in stone.
Where states once exclusively memorialized their white political leaders of the day, they’re just as likely now to turn to Native Americans or women. And though they’re still carved from marble or cast in bronze, the designs have become more animated, colorful and subjective.
“The early statues in the collection are kind of alike. You would find that true throughout Washington, D.C., through that era,” says Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol. “We are seeing states pick more modern figures, and the artists are depicting them in a more modern way.”
Derrick Woodham, a sculptor and professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati, says the modern statues go beyond simple physical renderings. They are meant to invoke some sense of personality of the subject as well as the state.
“The context of the sculpture has expanded dramatically,” Woodham says.
Ohio is considering replacing one of the two statues the state submitted as part of the National Statuary Hall collection.
Three states — Alabama, California and Kansas — have done so since the law was changed in 2000 to allow for replacements.
Cincinnati’s Charles Niehaus, who created Ohio’s two statues — James Garfield and William Allen — contributed eight statues to the collection from 1886 to 1929. In 2003, Kansas replaced his statue of George Washington Glick with one of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Michigan is looking now to replace his statue of Zachariah Chandler with one of Gerald Ford, Malecki says.
Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio, says he likes the traditional neo-classic sculptures but recognizes the quality of some of the more modern works.
“Father Damien captures Hawaii,” Driehaus said.
The boxy bronze statute of the legendary Hawaiian missionary-turned-saint, designed by Paris-born sculptor Maria Sol Escobar, arrived in 1969 and clearly displays the pop art influence of that era.
Republican Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont, who also served in the Senate, suggested the idea of a Statuary Hall in the Capitol as a place where each state could send a bronze or marble statue of a notable citizen as a lasting commemoration.
A law was passed in 1864 to permit each state to submit two statues to the Capitol collection of a deceased citizen of distinguished military or civic service or of historic renown.
Many of the modern entries are housed in the newly opened Capitol Visitors Center, while others occupy spaces in the U.S. Capitol.
Among the modern entries are:
Alabama replaced an earlier statute this year with one of Helen Keller. The statue by artist Edward Hlavka depicts a young Keller, deaf and blind, touching water as it spouts from a hand pump.
New Mexico delivered a marble statue of San Juan Pueblo religious leader Po’pay to the Capitol in 2005. It was carved by Cliff Fragua.
A marble statue of North Dakota’s Sakakawea, who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition, was carved by Leonard Crunelle. It arrived in 2003.
Colorado astronaut John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. is depicted dressed in the spacesuit he wore as member of the aborted Apollo 13 moon mission. The statue by George and Mark Lundeen arrived in 1997.
Wyoming sent a statue of Shoshone warrior Washakie to the Capitol in 2000. The bronze statue was designed by Dave McGary and shows the renowned 19th-century leader in full headdress, holding a spear and wearing beaded moccasins.
Nevada’s statue of Sarah Winnemucca, an interpreter and negotiator of the Paiute tribe, was designed by Dave McGary, who at age 26 was the youngest artist included in the collection of figurative sculptures. The bronze work, which arrived in 2005, depicts Winnemucca in a fringed dress that seems to swirl, as if windswept.