Monday, February 24, 2014

Iowa, Illinois & scantily-clad maidens

Photo by Jason Mrachina/flickr creative commons

This is a little story that turned up because I spend too much time obsessing about old buildings, in this case the Iowa and Illinois state capitols --- cousins to each other because they were designed by the same architects and built at roughly the same time.

Although it's going to take me a while to get there, the focal points of the story are the two classically-draped bronze maidens holding light fixtures aloft at the base of the Iowa Captol's grand staircase, above and left.

Jason Mrachina/flickr creative commons
Iowa's Capitol was constructed during the years 1871-1886 at a cost of $2,873,294.59 (when all was said and done only about $3 in building expense was unaccounted for, a magnificent job of hawk-eyed accounting). It is by far the most successful of the two buildings (Illinois residents might disagree).

The larger Illinois Capitol, in Springfield, was built 1869-1889 for about $4,500,000 (Illinoisians have never been as effective at keeping track of their coins as Iowans).

The two building share architects, most notably Alfred H. Piquenard, French-trained and a refugee from the utopian Icarian movement. Piquenard was involved in the design and construction of both buildings from their inception until his death during 1876; after that, associates carried on.

The Iowa Captitol was restored during a project that concluded in 2001 and cost $41 million. Illinois recently completed restoration of only the west wing of its somewhat shabby pile --- at a cost of $50 million.

So I sat down Sunday afternoon to watch the this Illinois Public Broadcasting "Illinois Stores" program about the restoration. "Illinois Stories" is the type of program you wish Iowa Public Television still had on the air. I subscribe to its YouTube feed.

And that's where the full-circle of this story turned up --- I'd heard the tale of those Des Moines-based scantily-clad maidens before, from a Capitol guide.

The thing of it is, these classically-draped statues were designed and commissioned by Piquenard and produced to light the grand staircase in the Illinois Capitol.

D. Finnigan/Wikimedia Commons
But when Illinois lawmakers caught sight of them --- the shape of breasts (gasp) obvious under diaphanous veiling --- they were promptly rejected as far too risque for the eyes of Illinoisians and plain light fixtures installed instead.

So the architects offered the maidens to Iowa and Iowans --- always in the market for a good deal --- snapped them up, they were transported to Des Moines and installed to light the grand staircase of our Capitol instead. They've been there since.

I'm not sure Iowans were less prudish, but sometimes you've got to wonder. Go take a look the next time your're at the Capitol at the massive bare-chested maiden incorporated into the multi-story Iowa Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the south lawn.

The story came full circle when the restoration project in Illinois began. Restorers were intent on returning the building so far as possible to the architect's original vision, including those statues at the base of the staircase. But of course Iowa had treasured the ladies for more than a century and was unlikely to give them up.

So Illinois traveled to Des Moines, made elaborate multi-dimensional laser scans of the bronze originals, then had them reproduced. The only noticeable difference (at left above) is the globes --- those shielding the light source in Des Moines apparently are replacements, perhaps installed when the maidens were electrified, and the Illinois globes restore Piquenard's original vision.

You can read more about Iowa's Capitol and see more of the extraordinary photographs of the building by Jason Mrachina by going to an earlier Lucas Countyan post here. Mrachina shares his work through flickr creative commons. You can access his entire Iowa Capitol set here and the cover page to his flickr site here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm partial to the replacement globes than the originals. Way to go Iowans!