While visiting Nebraska in the fall of 2012, I toured the state capitol building in Lincoln, known as the Tower of the Plains. The structure bursts with symbolism and art and made me realize a tour of all 50 US state capitols might be a worthwhile quest.
The building was designed by architect Bertram Goodhue in neo-gothic or what I consider Art Deco style. It stands on the site of the previous Capitol and features a “cross within a square” floor plan. The broad square base runs 437 feet on each side, partially underground, and rises three levels in height standing for the rolling prairie fields. The landmark domed tower rises 400-feet and supports a 19- foot tall bronze figure of “The Sower”. The figure represents agriculture as the heart of Nebraska’s prosperity. Mosiac Thunderbirds beneath the “Sower” imply rain.
Construction began in 1922 around the old building and continued for ten years. Landscaping was competed in 1934 at which time the Capitol was fully paid for at a cost of $9.8 million.
I found a plethora of art on every wall and corner, on the ceilings and the floor. Why, the place out ranks most art museums. My guide explained that each piece tells the story of Nebraskans from the Native Americans to the pioneers, to the present day.
My favorite artworks included the following areas with descriptions taken from the official website: http://capitol.org/visit.
The theme of the Vestibule is “Gifts of Nature to Man on the Plains”. The sun, an important gift of nature, is represented in the top of the dome, the chandelier and the large floor mosaic. In the mosaic tile dome, surrounding the sun in a large circle are agricultural products of Nebraska, and in the corners of the dome are the four seasons of agriculture.
Warner Chamber Native American doors
The colorful doors to the Warner Chamber tell of Native American culture and life. Corn, the Native American’s main agricultural crop and important food source is in the center of the doorway, represented as a tree of life. The Thunderbird, a symbol of rain and life is pictured at its center. On the sides, an Indian man is standing on an otter, a symbol of medicine and an Indian woman is standing on a turtle, symbol of fertility.
Hildreth Meiere’s ceiling mosaics within the chamber represent the daily activities of the Native American cultures of the Plains: women hoeing corn, a war party, a tribal council, and a buffalo hunt. The mosaics and decorative borders were designed to look like Native American beadwork.
West Legislative Chamber doors
The leather doors of the West Chamber show the agricultural foundation of Western Civilization in the ancient middle eastern region. With the Assyrian man and woman planting a tree of life under an Egyptian sun.
The 8000 piece carved walnut ceiling aids in the acoustical quality of the Chamber. It has coffers which along with the Guastavino Acoustic Tile walls capture sound waves and prevent echos. The public is welcome to attend the court’s sessions and enter from the rear of the Chamber.
The central room of the 14th Floor Observation Level is the Memorial Chamber, it is “dedicated to the forms of heroism called for in the public service and in devotion to humanity”.
The Capitol is open 7 days a week.
445 K Street
On K, between 14th and 16th Streets
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509–4696
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