The US Capitol Art Collection


Curators of the United States Capitol art collection ​say they need $ 25,000 to repair paintings and statues damaged in the January attack. The main damage was caused by chemicals from fire extinguishers. On February 24, the US House Subcommittee heard testimony from the Capitol architect and House curator about the damage to the building and its art collection by the gang that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

The US Capitol Architect J. Brett Blanton, in prepared testimony, said that the statues, murals, historic benches, and original shutters have all suffered to varying degrees of damage, primarily from pepper spray deposits and chemical irritants, and fire extinguishers.

This damage to precious artworks and statues from the United States Capitol art collection will require expert cleaning and conservation.

These eight artworks are in need of conservation after the January 6 Capitol invasion. Courtesy of the Office of the Clerk

The clerk’s office, which has overseen the US Capitol Art Collection since 1988, is requesting $ 25,000 in emergency funding to cover the cost of restoring and repairing damaged art. The 13,000-piece collection includes 535 works currently on display in the Capitol and House office buildings.

During the riots, brave employees rescued several important artifacts of the house’s legislative history. With a quick thought, the magazine clerk found an 1819 silver inkwell, the oldest facility in the House, said House curator Farar Elliott in prepared testimony.

Sergeant Paul D. Irving was also able to evacuate the ceremonial silver mace from the hall. A symbol of the legislative power, it was created by the silversmith William Adams in 1842 to replace the House destroyed by the British army in 1814 – the only time the capital was occupied by an invasion force.

A rioter holds a Trump flag inside the US Capitol Building near the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Capitol staff architect was also forced to react quickly. Blanton said AOC staff members had sheltered congressional staff in their stores to protect them from the roving crowd. Other team members rushed to the roof to change the airflow inside the building to clear the air of chemical irritants.

William Adams, Mace of the US House of Representatives (1841). Photo courtesy of the US House of Representatives

But the crowd did extensive damage to the US Capitol Art Collection, tracing wet paint from newly built inaugural platforms through historic stone balustrades and corridors inside the Capitol Building. The rebels tore from the site two of the 14 historic bronze and glass lanterns designed by Frederick Lowe Olmsted and shattered the window panes, punching the building.

According to Blanton, the Capitol architect retains some of the broken pieces for potential presentation or display.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol’s Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Inside the House, Elliott said eight works of art are in need of conservation measures. These included a bust of statesman Chippev Beshiki from 1858, a statue of Thomas Jefferson, and marble and granite busts of four speakers in the hall (Joe Cannon, Champ Clark, Thomas Brackett Reid, and Joseph Martin).

Also, modern copies of historical portraits of James Madison and John Quincy Adams were damaged. Elliott added that their frames, plinths, pedestals, and niches were coated with a fine powder, probably the remains of a chemical spray.

Tests carried out by conservatives at the Smithsonian Institution showed that the statues were fired upon from a fire extinguisher. Elliott explained that fire extinguisher particles contain a yellow dye that can discolor the surfaces it touches, especially porous stone such as marble.

To stabilize the statues until such work was completed, the busts were wrapped in museum plastic. If the cost of the restoration is less than the $ 25,000 requested, the clerk’s office plans to use the remaining funds towards ongoing conservation projects in the US Capitol Art Collection.

About the National Statuary Hall Collection

The entire United States Capitol art collection of statues ​consists of 100 statues contributed by 50 states, two statues each. Initially, all the statues were placed in the National Sculpture Hall. However, as the collection expanded, it outgrew the Hall, and in 1933, Congress authorized an exhibition of statues throughout the building for both aesthetic and structural reasons.

There are currently 35 statues in the National Sculpture Hall. Each statue is a gift from the state, not from an individual or a group of citizens. The process of donating a statue usually begins in the state legislature with an ordinance specifying the name of the citizen to be immortalized and his or her qualifications, identifying the committee or commission representing the state in choosing the sculptor, and specifying how the funds will be raised to implement solutions.

The US Capitol Architect (AOC) is responsible for the care and preservation of works of art in the US Capitol, but our role also extends to the process before they even enter the building. AOC’s Curators Unit is involved in evaluating and advising on new statues and busts, and when the state decides to replace a statue in the National Assembly Hall of Sculptures.

Capitol Rotunda


Today, the US Capitol Rotunda is the result of two different construction campaigns. Dr. William Thornton won the competition for the design of the United States Capitol in 1793. He conceived the idea of ​​a central rotunda. Due to a lack of funds and materials, sporadic stages of construction, and a fire started by the British in 1814, construction of the Capitol rotunda began only in 1818.

The rotunda was completed under the direction of Charles Bulfinch by the time of the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.

Conceived in the neoclassical era, the Rotunda was supposed to resemble the Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple. Bulfinch created an ambitious combination of architecture, sculpture, and painting at the United States Capitol Rotunda.

The curving sandstone walls are separated by fluted Doric pilasters with wreaths of olive branches carved into the frieze above. The floor consists of concentric rings of waxed Seneca sandstone arranged around a central circular slab of white marble. Individual stones were replaced as needed from the moment they were installed.

Space is used for important ceremonial events permitted by the simultaneous ordinance, such as the lying of distinguished citizens and the dedication of pieces of the United States Capitol art collection.



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