After fire destroyed Missouri’s capitol in 1911, voters approved a bond issue to construct a new statehouse. The tax to pay the bonds produced a one-million-dollar surplus, leaving a vast amount of money to decorate the new building. A special commission of art-minded Missourians employed some of the nation’s leading painters and sculptors to create powerful and often huge pieces of art to adorn Missouri’s most important new structure.
The art of the Missouri capitol was considered among the finest to adorn any state capitol. But the passage of time has lessened recognition of the pieces and their creators. Most people—even those daily wandering the marble halls—have little knowledge of the significance of the art and the history it portrays.
Bob Priddy and Jeffrey Ball return the capitol’s decorations to prominence in The Art of the Missouri Capitol: History in Canvas, Bronze, and Stone. The book tells the many stories behind the art: the rigors of its creation, the political roadblocks that endangered the decoration program, and the triumph of the commissioners who devoted more than ten years to the project.
The Art of the Missouri Capitol presents the art in 270 images, many by Lloyd Grotjan, mostly of the building’s many compelling paintings, murals, and sculptures. Priddy, a journalist who has covered the Missouri legislature for more than three decades, and Ball, an art historian, use a wealth of historical materials to connect the grand design of the capitol decorations with accounts of sometimes temperamental artists and meddling politicians. The authors provide historical and artistic context to explain the many surprising, controversial choices the artists made, and they use Missouri history to explain the tales depicted in the artwork, revealing the events—and inaccuracies—that the paintings bring to life.
The authors honor the Missouri capitol’s artistic excellence in a way that will appeal to art enthusiasts and history buffs as well as to general readers. The Art of the Missouri Capitol: History in Canvas, Bronze, and Stone is the definitive account of the art’s creation, of the men who produced it, and of the Missourians who lived the history that inspired it.
About the Authors
Bob Priddy is President of the State Historical Society of Missouri. He has won numerous awards for his work in broadcast journalism and is the author of several books about Missouri history, including Only the Rivers Are Peaceful: Thomas Hart Benton's Missouri Mural.
Jeffrey Ball is an art historian whose areas of expertise include architecture and public art in the United States, historic preservation, and American art.
Published by the University of Missouri Press, hardback, 2011. 416 pages. 270 images.