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Kansas State Capitol - Artwork

Capitol dome mural, PeaceThe Kansas State Capitol has been host to many exciting debates since its completion in 1903. Some of the most notable discussions concerned the artwork that would adorn the dome and the capitol interior.

Discussions immediately began concerning what would sit atop the capitol. For decades, the solution was a lightbulb. Finally in 2002 the statue Ad Astra, a Kanza warrior shooting the North Star, was placed on top of the dome.

The answer to murals in the dome by Jerome Fedeli considered scandalous were new paintings in 1902 at a cost of $7,600. The Chicago firm of Crossman and Study created the new murals of fully-clothed male and female figures. Above the four wings were Knowledge, Plenty, Peace, and Power. In the corners were Temperance, Religion, Labor, Agriculture, Art, Science, a soldier representing the Civil War, and one from the Spanish American War.

In 1937 a Kansan was selected to portray the story of Kansas in murals on the second floor. John Steuart Curry, born near Dunavant in Jefferson County, was hired. Curry had painted murals in several federal government buildings in Washington, D.C. Depicting the "historic struggle of man with nature," Curry created Tragic Prelude on the east and north wall of the east corridor, as the first chapter in the state's history. The famous painting made a legend of John Brown, and included Coronado and Padre Padilla. View several of Curry's statehouse studies.

For the rotunda, Curry designed images depicting a Kansas homestead, barbed wire fences, the plagues, soil erosion, corn and wheat, and the great cattle drives, as the second chapter in the history. Curry created Kansas Pastoral in the west wing, to show the "overpowering sensuousness of the land at sunset and in its time of abundant harvest." This wing, the last chapter, depicted contemporary Kansans of the 1930s.

As he painted, the public began to complain about the people and animals depicted in the west wing. The controversies included criticism of the color of the Hereford bull, the length of the woman's skirt, and the curling pig's tail. A disagreement between the artist and state officials stopped the project. "The eight panels in the rotunda which comprise the book itself I have not been allowed to accomplish because of the order of the Executive Committee forbidding the removal of eight small pieces of Italian marble. . .the work in the east and west stands as disjoined and un-united fragments. Because this project is uncompleted and does not represent my true idea, I am not signing these works," Curry said.

Lumen Martin Winter created scenes for the four corners of the second floor rotunda filling the space left vacant by Curry. David H. Overmyer painted eight scenes from Kansas history on the first floor rotunda. Pete Felten created four sculptures of famous Kansans in the second floor rotunda: Arthur Capper, Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower, and William Allen White. In addition to the interior artwork, several sculptures have been added to the capitol grounds including two sculptures by Robert Merrell Gage — Abraham Lincoln: Man of Sorrows on the southeast corner and The Pioneer Mother and Child on the southwest corner.

Entry: Kansas State Capitol - Artwork

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2009

Date Modified: April 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.