Photo by Carlos Elmer
Featured in the spring issue of 1971 (Editor’s Note: This article has been lightly edited and updated.)
From an architectural standpoint, the state capitol building is one of which every Kansan should be proud. While there are a number of state capitol buildings in the United States that are more costly and are ornamented with more costly material, there are few, if any, that present a grander view from the standpoint of altitude and proportion as one views it from the rotunda. The building is 399 feet north and south, and 386 feet east to west; 304 feet to the top of the dome.
Throughout the interior of the capitol, many types of marble are used. The wainscoting in the center of the building on the first floor is of Tennessee marble; the west corridor is of Manual tile; and the east corridor is of Georgian marble. The large upper panels in wainscoting on the second floor are built of Siena and Lambertin marble from Italy. The base and capstones are Numidian marble from Africa. The Mopboard and base of the niche are rouge Royal marble from France. Tennessee marble is used in all the wings of the second floor and it’s the finest in the building. The Georgian marble in the rotunda of the third floor was put in by the Populist party, as their memorial.
In 1898 Jerome Fedeli agreed to do the job of frescoing the interior of the dome for $1,600. His design contained figures of conventional Greek style. In 1902 the murals were replaced with the present frescoing done by painters from Crossman and Study of Chicago at a cost of $7,600. The pictures were painted in oil on Egyptian canvas and have a mosaic background. The four sections are allegorical in composition and represent Knowledge, Plenty, Peace and Power. Below the paintings and forming an arch over each of the four openings from the wings is a replica of the state seal in full relief; at each side there are figures representing the varied activities of Kansas at the time-labor, horticulture, agriculture, coal mining, etc.
The rotunda murals on the first floor were designed and executed by David H. Overmyer, a native of Topeka. Subjects of these eight mural paintings are: The Coming of the Spaniards, The Chisholm Trail, The Coming of the Railroad, The Santa Fe Trail, Lewis and Clark in Kansas, Building a Sod House, The Battle of Mine Creek, and The Battle of the Arikaree. Murals in the rotunda on the second floor were painted by John Steuart Curry, who was born near Dunavant, Jefferson County. The two-panel mural entitled "Tragic Prelude," occupies the east and north walls of the east corridor, facing the governor's office. In the west corridor off the rotunda is located "Kansas Pastoral" portraying the state in the time of fruitful harvest.
The governor's offices are located on the second floor and are finished in white mahogany from Old Mexico. An outstanding artist of his day, George Stone, of Topeka, painted the two pictures in these offices. The one on the east wall is an allegorical picture of Justice, called "Spirit of Kansas". On the west wall is a picture depicting a covered wagon drawn by oxen. A reproduction of the seal of the state of Kansas is woven into carpeting in front of the Governor's desk.
The Supreme Court room on the third Hoor is of French Renaissance architecture in conformance with the overall design of the capitol building. The Senate chamber and the House of Representatives are located on the third Hoor-the Senate in the east wing and the House of Representatives in the west wing. The Senate chamber is one of the finest in the United States and was decorated in 1885 at a cost of nearly $300,000. The ceiling is of Egyptian architecture and the state imported Egyptians to do the work. The ceiling is made of a unique type of plaster, and in nearly 100 years there have been no cracks. The round windows on each side are from France.
Many types of marble have been used in the Senate chamber. The lower wall, just above the baseboards, is a grayish-blue marble from Belgium and is a very unusual color for marble. Above the blue marble, running horizontally around the room, is a panel of onyx from Old Mexico, sometimes called precious stone. The white marble above the onyx is from Italy, the same marble from which the Venus de Milo was carved. The marble over the door is from Tennessee and is very ornate.
The 28 columns are hand-hammered copper. Italians were imported to do this work. According to historical reports it took one man a day to complete a small cluster of three leaves in the design. The base of the columns is made of black cast iron and the grill work on the base leads one to believe that these were originally charcoal burners used to heat the Senate chamber. The 40 desks and chairs in the Senate are hand-made of Kansas wild cherry. The president's rostrum and journal clerks' section is made of Kansas wild walnut, as are the double doors at the entrance of the chamber. Additional ornate work is found in the grey marble sections. There are insets of copper plates with hand-hammered designs and below these are insets of rosettes made and carved from Tennessee marble.
The marble in the House of Representatives is from Tennessee, and the wainscoting on the east wall is made of many kinds of imported marble trimmed with Italian Carrara. and panels of Brocelian marble with Belgian green marble in the base of the columns. Several pieces of marble in the east wall are of jasper. The decorations on the ceiling of the House are mural paintings. These pictures of lovely ladies who look down on solons from the ceiling were cloned years ago by Albert T. Reid, a Kansas artist. The speaker's stand is made of walnut, surmounted with hand-carved urns of solid walnut.
A remodeling project now underway is converting unused air and light shafts into semi-private offices for about 18 or 20 legislators. Other improvements include a new information counter on the first floor, a highspeed elevator, new lounge for the governor's office and remodeled press room. After the 1971 Legislature adjourns, workmen will paint the House chamber and install new lighting, draperies and carpet.
The statue of Abraham Lincoln, southeast of the capitol building, and the monument dedicated to the Pioneer Women of 'Kansas, southwest of the building, were both made by Robert Merrell Gage. When he made the Lincoln monument, about 1915, Gage was just out of school and still living with his parents at 1031 Fillmore, Topeka. He made the figure of Lincoln in the barn at that address. The Pioneer woman monument, a gift from the Kansas Pioneer Woman's Memorial Association, was dedicated in 1937. A bronze replica of the statue of Liberty, in the northwest section of the statehouse grounds, was dedicated in 1950 by the Boy Scouts of Kansas. The Liberty Bell which stands on the east side of the statehouse grounds is a replica of the famous bell in Philadelphia.
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Story & photography by KANSAS! Magazine Staff This story was originally featured in our… Read More