Thursday, November 02, 2006

Boring Postcards

[posted by Callimachus]

The Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg is a pretty impressive pile of architecture. The old capitol burned down in 1897, and the new one was built (for the princely sum of $13 million) as a "palace of art." Pennsylvania had the good fortune to attempt this in one of the few periods in American history when that could be done with confidence, and without serious embarrassment.

Governor Pennypacker (one of my favorite Pa. governors and one of the few honest ones) deidated the building on Oct. 4, 1906, which means it just turned 100. The architectural inspiration was St. Peter's Basilica. The interior is adorned with Carrara marble, murals (by Violet Oakley and Edwin Austin Abbey), gold leaf, stained glass, and sculptures.

The most notable of the last are "Love and Labor, the Unbroken Law" and "The Burden of Life, the Broken Law" by George Grey Barnard, a disciple of Rodin.

President Theodore Roosevelt, among others, found them moving: "I recognize in the foreground two symbols which are supremely contrasted. One is humanity pausing, dominated by the influence of past error. The other is humanity advancing, inspired by the gospel of work and brotherhood," Roosevelt said.

Barnard's art, naturally, offended some folks since it included anatomically correct male nudes. But the Pennsylvanians didn't go as far school authorities at Kankakee (Ill.) Central School, Barnard's alma mater. Barnard caught them putting plaster shorts on the nude statues he had donated.

When he died, his friends said, "all America would remember him because ... he left a trail of beauty across the whole United States." But we've forgotten him. His will asked that he be buried in Harrisburg Cemetery so he could rest near the statues he considered his masterpiece.