I had the opportunity to wander the halls of the Massachusetts State House recently. I was early to an ICAA event and after perusing the State House Bookstore (reports on child welfare, food adulteration, agency budgets, and other soporific fare) found myself in a series of rooms under the main gilded dome.
The building was designed by Massachusetts’ hero of neoclassicism Charles Bulfinch. He’s honored in the foyer with bronze bas relief and opposite it another plaque of the same design commemorating the “completion of large additions [and] a thorough reconstruction of the interior of the original building undertaken to preserve from decay and from destruction from fire a noble public work”.
I’m easily distracted by handsome metalwork and a good patina and I have more than a passing interest in the history of metalworking in the USA. I snooped around the frames and found the foundry mark.
Both of these sculptures were made by The Henry Bonnard Bronse (sic) Founders NY (1899). Bonnard, located in Mount Vernon, was also one of the two foundries that Frederic Remington used for his sculptures (along with The Roman Bronze Co.).
Flanking these two sculptures, inset into the side walls of the passage to the next room are a curious pair of dim grey tombstones. These are (according to the State House guidebook) reproductions of the gravestones of the last English ancestors of George Washington. One in particular caught my eye.
The stone is inlaid with two brass tablets with an inscription and a what appears to be coat of arms. What I find distinctive about these brasses is the apparent hand-chiseled nature of the engraving. I don’t know how well the photos capture this quality but it’s apparent in the stars of the coat of arms most distinctly of all.
Between the foyer and the rotunda is a white and grey-veined marble room with a dazzlingly lit coffered ceiling and a second level colonnade of ionic columns and pilasters. Here are some details of the stairway as well as the ceiling:
I love the exaggerated beading.
To the right, against a beautiful marble staircase is a large bronze with greater-than-life-size figures on a marble plinth.
It’s a “Memorial to the Army Nurses of the Civil War” and was presented in 1914. The sculptor was Bela L. Pratt and the founder marked the work on the lower right of the base “Roman Bronze Works NY.”
Roman Bronze has an interesting and long history in New York City. They formed in the late 19th Century, provided lamp bases and other castings for Louis Comfort Tiffany (with whom they shared factory space in Corona Queens), and operated until the late 1980s when they closed their doors and auctioned a vast store of original models. I found a link to the original auction listing, reviewed in The New York Times.
In the rotunda (called the “Memorial Hall”) under the amazing coffered dome is another pair of bas relief sculptures.
The subjects are Civil War officers from the Boston area. On the left is Brigadier General Thomas Greely Stevenson, killed in action Virginia 1864. On the right is Rear Admiral John Ancrum Winslow, with an inscription that reads “EVER VICTORIOUS FOR THE NATION, HE ADDED IN BATTLE FOR THE UNION AS COMMANDER OF THE KEARSARGE PECULIAR LUSTRE TO THE ANCIENT SERVICE OF MASSACHUSETTS ON THE SEA.”
Both of these sculptures were made by the Providence, Rhode Island Gorham company. More famous for their silverware and trophies, they also took commissions for monumental public sculpture. There’s lots of information on their work online and the company is still in existence (though it has changed hands many times) and is still producing high quality silverware.
Here’s a section of the mosaic floor in this room.
The floors throughout are made of fine mosaics, and though I forget the craftsman’s name, there’s a contemporary exhibit on his work in the foyer.
The last bronze I found that evening was a memorial to Henry Bradford Endicott “Humanitarian, Loyal Citizen, PATRIOT and Food Administrator” who passed from this life in 1920.
This tablet was cast by the T. F. McGann & Sons Founders, Boston Mass. I have never heard of this firm before, but a quick scan of the Smithsonian Institution’s online database turns up almost 75 known public artworks.