July 11th, 2009


State capitol buildings I've been to, adding Georgia

Last week when I was in KC with Mom we got to talking about state capitols. We were at the Nelson and they have Thomas Hart Benton paintings, which just made me think of Missouri. When I was in grade school we went to Jefferson City and toured the capitol building and the one big thing I remember is the murals showing plane old everyday life. Missouri was a setting off point for the west, the gateway if you will, and so its cities were a mix of crazy bustling and cultures mixing together. The capitol murals ended up being more shocking than the commissioners had planned... rugged frontier people in all shapes, sizes and activities, a baby getting its diaper changed, livestock, that sort of thing. All over the walls of the house lounge. But they went with it and it's wonderful and says something about Missouri, how it the people were searching for something real, how everyone was leaving cities to find the raw frontier and there was a great sense of adventure.

The Kansas state capitol isn't as much about rugged individualism, when I think about it I think of a struggling society trying to find its place. First, there's this giant mural of John Brown fighting for Bleeding Kansas - if a crazy man holding a gun and a bible in the state capitol building doesn't say something about us, what does. Kansas was a state where groups of people, not individuals, saw an opportunity to have the place they wanted. The top of the capitol dome features a statue of an indian shooting an arrow skyward, related to our optimistic state motto "To the stars through difficulty". But there's a deep story there... when a determined group of people want something wonderful, conflicts can happen. And that's why we have a convicted felon painted on the wall.

I have also been to the Texas capitol, which is huge and crazy and makes me think of people playing cowboy and trampling muddy boots in to exchange money back in the day. And I've been to the California capitol in Sacramento, which makes me think of pride in natural resources combined with the modern hippyism of governor Jerry Brown's portrait. According to my parents I've been to the Illinois state capitol but I don't remember it very well, Dad says it's one of his favorites though, and that it has wonderful artifacts pertaining to Abraham Lincoln and strongly honors the intellectual aspects of politics and debates.

Two nights ago in my post-bar Atlanta funk I noticed the Georgia state building and said I wanted to go. We trekked downtown, which was a scary traffic experience but we survived, paid $5 to park and walked a few blocks to the capitol. The Georgia capitol has a bright gold dome. It's surrounded by trees and plants with huge waxy leaves that only grow in southern climates. There are statues of confederate war heroes. It sort of gives a "Look what we got for reconstruction!" vibe... things are matched and well-coordinated, because it was suddenly just all built after the civil war destroyed Atlanta. The top floor features a museum to let people know about the history of Georgia. There's a clock frozen in a display case that a governor tried to set back, nearly killing himself in the process, to prolong a debate about redrawing voting lines that prevented blacks from having a voice at the polls. In fact there are lots of references to racial segregation and the resulting conflicts. Georgia is a humble state, honoring its heritage and contributions to the civil war, quietly acknowleging the peanut farmers. You get the feeling that they weren't violently opposed to change, just didn't see why they had to bother with it. It came to them and they were forced to confront. It happened that way with civil rights. It happened that way with the civil war... trying to succeed from the union to avoid having to change. But they were unable to run, shaken down to nothing, and then what?

In the end, there's Jimmy Carter... his statue outside the capital with palms up to offer service and encourage generosity, telling Georgia that they can honor past and future at the same time, do good things and you will find your pride. The Texas capitol seems to really live in the here and now, Georgia's seems a little unsure of where it set its next foot. But it will set it among lovely magnolia trees.

So here I get to mark another notch on my list of capitol buildings... Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, California, Texas, Georgia. It was a nice day and the guys with me agreed it was interesting, and we were all happy that our afternoon activities only cost us a few dollars to park.