Omaha daily bee. (Omaha [Neb.]) 187?-1922, December 24, 1905, Image 17

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    The Omaha Illustrated Bee
y NUMBER 330.
Entered Second Class at Omaha rostoffice Published "Weekly by The Bee Publishing Co. Subscription, $2.50 Per Year.
DECEMBER 24, 1003.
Iowa's Beautiful State House and Its Artistic Interior Decorations
With Especial Reference to the Work that Has Been Done Under the Direction of the State Oapltol Commission in Expending the Appropriation of the Last Legislature.
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Edwlu II. Blashfield.
UNTIL . the instructions of the Twenty-ninth General As
sembly of Iowa were carried out, the corridors and rotunda
of the Iowa state capltol building, the part moat seen by
the visitor, were plain undecorated walla. In the cove above
the grand staircase an attempt at decorative art had been made
and some Indian figures were there presented with some other paint
ings. A legend is retained about the state house that the painter
who did the work received $1.60 a day, and a good Judge of art
would say that he earned no more. In the rotunda of the building
on the first floor there were four niches. Two of these were empty
except for some benches piled in them. The other two were boarded
up and were used by the Janitors as closets. They were eyesores to
everyone who saw them. Down through the long corridors abso
lutely nothing existed to break the monotony of the architectural
lines. The wide cerridor of the entrance presented only white walla
and with the Massive arches overhead gave one more or less the
lmpresslea of being In a basemeat where the supports of the struc
ture are allowed to stand out 1 all prominence.
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Office Rooms Painted.
chairman of the capltol commission, that the only thing that could
be done In getting a great painting was to select a great artist,
give him a commission and leave him to his own devices. This plan
was followed. It has been the wish and expectation to have work
by nearly It not all of the great artists of this time. The panel above
the grand etalrcase is fourteen feet high by thirty-eight feet long.
It is considered the most conspicuous place and the best place for
a great painting that the state house affords. E. H. Blashfield was
selected to paint the picture for this space.
Where Blashfield's Painting Hangs.
It was the first desire of the capltol commission and of nearly
everyone else that this painting should in a way at least be typical
of the west and should be a preservation In art of the growth and
development of a great state from a prairie wilderness. It was
realized that an artist must be given a free rein, that art cannot
be controlled as la carpenter work, and that sometimes the best
artists, falling to catch the inspiration, will fall short of expecta
tions. Consequently when Blashfield was commissioned to paint the
picture for which the state had appropriated $10,000 the commission
offered up some silent prayers that he would be inspired to paint
a masterpiece.
Spirit of the Painting.
The picture Is entitled "Westward." The most conspicuous
figure in the painting is a great prairie schooner of the pioneer days,
which is moving from the right to the left of the picture. In the
front of the schooner sit two women and a child and drawing the
schooner are two yoke of oxen. Men and women and children such
as accompanied such trains in the pioneer days follow on either
side of the oxen. Above the oxen and in front of the prairie schooner
ore mythical figures. One carries the seal of the state of Iowa. Two
others carry a basket of seeds which they distribute. Back of the
prairie schooner come two other mythical figures, one carrying a
The office rooms of the state house have been adorned with
tnural decorations for years. The work for the most part was satis
factory. The corridors, rotunda and spaces about the building were
tho most glaringly deficient, so the legislature gave the capltol com
mission an appropriation and ordered that the state house corridors
be decorated, and gave the commission authority .to Belect the be3t
artists of the country to paint pictures to be hung in suitable places.
One such painting was ordered to be flaced in a panel fourteen by
thirty-eight feet, Just above the grand staircase, and for this an
appropriation of $10,000 was made. An appropriation of the same
amount was made for six panels of smaller size above the gallery
which overlooks the grand staircase. An appropriation of $8,000
was made for the eight lunettes in the rotunda. Many other spaces
suitable for paintings still remain and It is the Intention of the
legislature to make additional appropriations for paintings for these
spaces in time.
' Effect Sought in Decoration.
In decorating the walls of the building the object sought was
to cover up the harsh architectural lines. Instead of greeting the
visitor on entering the state house with a barrenness, It was sought
to so decorate the walls that a feeling of ease and comfort would
greet one. The Iowa state capltol has been occupied for about
twenty years, and one point to be avoided was that the paintings
should not present such a newness and freshness that the building
would look like an old building painted over to make It look new.
The painting must be harmonious and Mr. Garnsey, who did the
decorative work, has succeeded admirably in the Judgment of the
best critics. Olives, old rose and sombre colors predominate in the
decorative work. The bell of the dome is covered with gold loaf
iind nbove it a deep blue to give a background for the gold. From
the bell cf the dome to tho first floor isK3 feet, and the skill of
the aitibt In decorating that enormous hole was no small task. It
has been accomplished and tho blending of the colors from top to
bottom la pleading- The architectural lines here, too, were the most
difficult to cover up. This has been accomplished largely by a har
mony of colors.
The celling of the main east and west corridors of the first
lloor has been decorated to give the soft Mosaic effect, and has been
done with great success. The olives and old rose colors of the walls
ure carried Into the celling Mosaics and give the same pleasing effect
as though the decorations had always been there from the time the
building was first erected. The decorations seem to be a very part
of the building. As one comes from the main corridor to the rotunda
he no longer sees the four niches which were formerly mere cubby
holes. They are now Inclosed and are the receptacles of the battle
flat's carried by the Iowa regiments during the Civil war. The cases
lire scaled with a plate glass, covering the opening, and even the old
battle flags to blnd nicely with the other decorations.
Problems for the Painter.
The nurrow corridors leading to the north and south were
formerly daik and gloomy because barren. Artist Garnsey has
ticcomplUhed wouders here by introducing the Pompeiian decora
tions. Bright Pompeiian red has been used which, given an old effect
under the skillful work of the artist, enlivens the dark corridors
and fives a very pleasins effect.
Tho same colors and effect in the main corridor 1 carried into
the onst corridor. Perhaps the greatest skill of the artist was made
necessary by the fact that tho building Is a museum of marble. One
of the commissioners who built the state house was an authority on
marble. He wished to display his learning on that subject and did
so by Introducing marble from every quarter of the globe. It is
asserted that heve was no marble of known fame and prominence
up to the time of the completion of the building that was not used.
The wainscoting-of the ofliee rooms us well as of the corridors is
made up of an almost endless variety. Soon after the state house
was completed a pamphlet was printed which was a guide to the
marble used in tho finishing work and the pamphlet, which waa
dovoted entirely to that subject, was of considerable size. Tho
marble ia of every color of tho rainbow and some besides, and to
put colors on the walls that would harmonize with all this color
In tho marble and still give soft and pleasing effect was the chief
task of the artist. Tho grand staircase in tho east corridor Is made
of marble entirely, and tho glare of color in that end of tho build
ing Is worse than anywhere else.
Just above tho grand staircase ia the painting by E. H. Blash.
field ot Nov York. It tu the contention of Senator 'A. B. Funk,
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miniature locomotive and tho other a miniature dynamo. Towards
the right of the picture and near the rear of the prairie schooner Is
a corn field with watermelons and other signs of civilization and a
man on horseback and three others on foot. Thus from the ox team
at the left of the picture in the lead to tho corn field and the figures
carrying the locomotive and dynamo at the extreme right there is
represented the progress of civilization, the "westward" trend of
civilization and the reclaiming of the virgin soil to cultivation and
Looked Upon as a Masterpiece.
Great paintings are recognized as such only after they have
been exhibited long enough for the public to become elucated up
to their merits. It Is the belief of the members of the capltol com
mission that they have what they hoped for a masterpiece and
there Is a belief that the painting will be recognized as such by the
public aa soon as it has had the opportunity to study the work, for
the first view Is never as appreciaUve aa the one-
hundredth In the case of a treat painting. It ia
certainly trwo with the Blashfield painting that
there Is a rare harmony of color and balance to
the painting. It is suited to the building and the
place in which It Is hung and adds very greatly
to the beautiful architecture of the state capltol.
Decoration in Large Chambers.
The supreme court room and the hall of tho
house of representatives were both badly damaged
by fire two years ago, and decoraUug has taken
place here. The bouse chamber has been rebuilt.
It might almost be said. The fire so damaged that
part of the building that the entire interior of the
room is now new. The ceiling and walls and all
the furnishings are new, and as it is today, on the
eve of the convening of the legislature, the house
chamber is more beautiful than It ever was be
fore, "fhe supreme court room was merely
smoked a little aud soiled with water, and all that
has been done there was to redecorate the walls,
which has been done very artistically. But in the
house the scagiolia columns have been replaced
with columns of a lighter color. The celling is
far more beautiful than the old one and the deco
rations and all are lighter and more modern.
Hundreds of incandescent electric lights will Illu
minate the room. Tho chandeliers In the new
furnishings are made of incandescent lights cov
ered with an Inverted bell of small pieces of cut
glass, and when the lights are on the effect Is very
pleasing and very dazzling.
Story of Its Construction
Iowa people are proud of their state house.
They are proud of the fact that it waa built by a
commission and that after seventeen years, after
a most rigid investigation, the commission was
found to be off in its accounts only $3.77. In re
ality four separate commissions have conducted
the work of erecting and completing the Iowa
capltol building and tho fourth is new only com
pleting the building, the foundation for which was
first laid in 1871. The first commission consisted
of the governor, who was made ex-ofliclo president
of the board, and eight members selected by tho
house a ml senate. They were to receive $5 a day
for the actual time they put in and also their ac
tual traveling expenses. The men who really
built tiie state house were Maturln L. Fisher, R.
S. Finkblue und Peter A. Dey, the last named
being the only one now living.
Under the provision that the rate of taxation
could not le Increased the erection of the state
house wus a slow process, and seventeen years
later, when tin legislature suddenly abolished the
commission, though the building was occupied by
the state oflVhiM, it was not completed. The gov
ernor was Klveu a Kiim of money" to complete the
building nnd he mailt such temiwrary arrange
ments hs were necessary and the building re
niHhied in much that condition till the twenty
elghth general assembly in 10UO created the cap
ltol Improvement commission and charged It with
making an investigation of the building with a
view to completing it. Thia commission consisted
of Peter A. Iey. a uiemlx-r of the first commis
sion; Prof. C. A. Cuininlng of this city anil Henry
S. Josselyn. Thin commission did considerable
work and the next legislature provided for tho
commission, now putting ou the finishing touches.
The original intention of the legislature was
that the capltol should cost not to exceed $1.50,
UUO. I'p to 1KS7 the General Assembly bad ap
propriated at different times aud there had been
expended on the' state house $2 871.300, Frneo
then the legislature has appropriated over quar
ter of a million and the rest of the completed
building will bo at least $3,250,0001