Thursday, February 24, 2011

Behind the Scenes - Capitol Visitor Center

I just love my hometown - Washington, DC. What a privilege it is to live in the nation's capital. Your local news is the national news. You're right in the midst of all the action. And ... it's such a lovely, beautiful city. Every time I go to DC, I have to take my camera for pictures. I was lucky again last Thursday when I went to the special tour of the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC)with the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC. The sky was so blue - a great morning for pictures. I love being a tour guide - to share my city with other Americans and with the French-speaking people who come to pay us a visit.

On my way from the Capitol South Metro Station to the CVC, I pulled out the trusty Nikon and started taking pictures. You'd think I would have enough, but that's never the case. There's always a unique way to look at the buildings. For example, here are the sides of the Madison Building (part of the Library of Congress) (second picture and the Cannon House Office Building (first picture). It's interesting to see the older architecture across from the street from the new. On the old, you can see the columns and on the new, the modern straight lines. I lean towards the "old."
Just before crossing Pennsylvania Avenue, I had to take some new shots of the Jefferson Building - the original part of the Library of Congress. It has such a unique dome. The front is also beautiful with its columns and steps. If you haven't been there, you should go. Inside is a great example of Italian renaissance architecture.
Finally, I approached the CVC. As I was walking down to its entrance, I had to take some photos of the Capitol - again! It seems like I've been visiting the Capitol all my life. The CVC, which is underground, does not take anything away from the beauty of its architecture and Frederick Olmsted's landscaping. Our guide, who works for the Architect of the Capitol, told us about the trees that had to be moved and all the work that took place to ensure the landscaping stayed mostly the same. Many of the trees are original or were planted by Congressmen who have since passed away so this was an important task. He also told us that the roof of the CVC had to be built first. So, instead of building the center from the ground up, it was built from the ground (roof) down!
Once you enter the CVC, you can still see the Capitol from inside - through a roof of glass. It was fun to try to take "cool" pictures through the roof. Since this was a tour "behind the scenes," we were able to go to a part of the CVC used only by Congressmen and Capitol employees. Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures in some places because of security, but where I could, I did. Since the original Capitol was built with imperfect sandstone that Bulfinch (one of the architects) painted white, the official Architect wanted to make sure that the "new part" had the same imperfect stones. Although there is no longer any stones left in the Aquia Creek, the builders were able to find matching stones from Boyer, Pennsylvania. I've included some pictures of the walls, the statuary, and the columns.

Each state is allowed to have two statues at the Capitol. Before the CVC, most were displayed in Statuary Hall (the original House of Representatives), the rotunda, and throughout the halls of the Capitol. Now many of them are in the CVC. One statue that needed to be moved to a better space was the one from Hawaii - King Kamehameha - who weighs 12,500 lbs.

There's a replacement statue for Alabama - Helen Keller. It is the first statue of a child and the ninth female statue.

Felix de Weldon, who was the sculptor for the Iwo Jima Memorial, was the sculptor for the Mother Joseph statue. De Weldon is the only sculptor to have a statue on every continent including Antarctica.

One of the newest statues is that of Jack Sweigert representing Colorado. It is one of the first statues in color. If you look at the helmet in his hands, you can see a reflection of the Capitol.

To me, the most impressive statue is the plaster model of Freedom Triumphant - the statue that is on top of the Capitol dome. On the Capitol website you read : "The statue is a classical female figure of Freedom wearing flowing draperies. Her right hand rests upon the hilt of a sheathed sword; her left holds a laurel wreath of victory and the shield of the United States with thirteen stripes. Her helmet is encircled by stars and features a crest composed of an eagle's head, feathers, and talons, a reference to the costume of Native Americans. A brooch inscribed 'U.S.' secures her fringed robes. She stands on a cast-iron globe encircled with the words E Pluribus Unum, the national motto at the time of her placement atop the dome." Here are several views. The sculptor was Thomas Crawford. He was commissioned to do this and made the plaster model in his studio in Rome. The statue was cast by Clark Mills in five parts in 1860 at his Bladensburg, Maryland, foundry under the watchful eye of his slave Philip Reid. Work was stopped in 1861 because of the Civil War, but it was finally completed in 1862. The statue was raised and put in place on December 2, 1863. Philip Reid was a free man at this time. Some of the pictures of Freedom looked better as black and white!
I had to rush home to go to French class so I couldn't take anymore pictures. Maybe next time!

1 comment:

JBL said...

Wonderful pictures. Did you know Julia Ward Howe was the sister in law of Thomas Crawford. Best, Jenee