Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Meiere blog.

So there I was in the Nebraska state capitol, standing on a work of fine art. It isn’t often you can plant your feet on such exquisite hand-made images, and it’s perfectly acceptable to do so. The capitol owes its artistry to a number of people, including architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue; sculptor Lee Lawrie; Hartley B. Alexander, “thematic consultant for inscription and symbolism” (according to capitol.org); and Hildreth Meiere, tile and mosaic designer for both works on the floor and the ceiling.

Many of the capitol’s visuals are impressive, but I was most taken with Meiere’s murals, which she designed at the time of construction in the 1920s. According to capitol.org: “The theme of the Foyer is the ‘Life of Man.’ On the floor are three mosaics which represent the Earth: ‘The Spirit of the Soil,’ ‘The Spirit of Vegetation’ and ‘The Spirit of Animal Life.’

The photos on that web site, unfortunately, do these works no justice. They’re flights of art deco fantasy, capturing landforms and plants and animals and human (spirit?) figures in muted hues of absolute clarity. But that wasn’t my first thought. As I looked down, I thought, Electrolux. Ivory Soap. The murals reminded me of ads in far-back numbers of Time and Life and Look and Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, for products long gone; ads rich in deco visuals and expository text, the sort of thing I discovered in the stacks at the Vanderbilt library 50 years after their heyday. I suspect, of course, that fine artists such as Meiere influenced commercial artists more than vice versa, but with Style Moderne, you can’t be sure.

Put Hildreth Meiere into Google, and you’ll get a fair number of hits, some by sites describing the Nebraska state capitol, others produced by art scholars. I quote from an abstract of a dissertation by one Jean Sharer, "Hildreth Meiere, American Muralist." University of New Mexico, August 2001.

“Hildreth Meiere (1892-1961) was a mural artist of some renown during her lifetime. A large body of her work remains in public view on and in buildings such as the Nebraska state capitol in Lincoln, the St. Louis Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan. Meiere's designs, ranging from traditional historical realism to Art Deco…

“Designing for mosaic, ceramics, metal, stained glass, and frescos, she was commissioned by mainstream architects for projects on buildings associated with the East Coast upper-middle class. … neither avant-garde nor consistently conservative, Meiere's murals, numbering well over a hundred, often represented the middle ground of American modern style in architectural projects, from churches to World's Fairs to public buildings to skyscrapers.”


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