Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Lincoln Capitol

Here are pictures of the Lincoln State Capitol, and also what the "Nebraska State Capitol" book (edited by Frederick C. Luebke) has to say about them:

Both panels of the south bay were designed by Reinhold Marxhausen. The Minnesota native received his formal art education at Mills College in California and has been a professor of art at Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska, since 1952. For his designs, Marxhausen employed a distinctive technique. Whereas the other muralists constructed their designs by means of traditional techniques, he laid his tiles of plywood panels and glued them in place with epoxy. He did not limit himself to ceramic and glass tesserae, but also incorporated pieces of hardwood flooring into his mural. In all cases, he butted the pieces tightly against each other, thereby eliminating the need for grout to till the interstices.

“Building for the Capitol” is the title of the mural that occupies the southernmost wall space on the east side of the foyer. The last of the murals to be installed, it draws on well-developed principles of mural design that permit diverse elements to be arranged on a single pictorial plane. In this instance, the second capitol of Nebraska stands below and to the left of a framed quotation from the Declaration of Independence. To the right one sees an indistinct outline of the present capitol. Together these elements dominate the composition and are joined in a rich field of variously colored tiles laid in purely abstract patterns.

“The Spirit of Nebraska,” which occupies the south panel on the west wall, is the thematic climax of the series. Because its content was not specified in Alexander’s grand plan, it presented the artist with a difficult compositional problem. Marxhausen chose to treat this abstract subject through a collage of naturalistic elements and symbolic devices. The panel is dominated by a bold Arabic numeral 1 made of gold glass set in a raised square of dark wood. It symbolizes Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, the only one-house state legislature in the United States. The lower part of the panel is dominated by an overall brown color, which, according to Marxhausen, represents both the rich soil of Nebraska and the deeply rooted conservatism of its citizens. Buried in this earth are fossils of Paleolithic creatures that roamed the plains before the Ice Age. Buried with them is a black box containing human bones. They are meant to symbolize the remains of unimaginative, nonproductive people, who, in Marxhausen’s view, deserve to be fossilized along with dinosaurs. But from this dark base emerge two vital elements. A plant on the left stands for agriculture, and on the right is the Nebraska capitol, itself a symbol of the spirit of Nebraska. Marxhausen’s design also includes hands that are kneading bread (to represent work) and hands that are upraised (to indicate hope and aspiration).

-Amber Konz