The complete historical article is being published by the US Capitol Historical Society in Fall 2007. I have included cultural, social, political and spiritual ideas regarding the statue, as a unique version of early American history. I would like to tell a longer version of this story as a documentary and include the process of casting and refurbishing such a colossal bronze statue. My own background in art history and metalsmithing at the University of California, Berkeley will give it a tangible and personal view.

An Appreciation of Thomas Crawford's Statue of Freedom:
A Statue Called America, Liberty, and Freedom

For over 140 years now, Lady Freedom has stood witness to all the events that have taken place in and around our nation's Capitol. She wears an eagle-feathered headdress with Greek and Roman clothing, holding instruments of war: integrating European and Native America imagery! She weighs 15,000 pounds, and her crest rises 288 feet above the eastern plaza of the Capitol. Her quiet presence speaks to the soul of America.

From a distance, this Statue of Freedom is often mistaken for Pocahontas, an Indian Chief, or Athena, the Greek Goddess. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the image America was a native woman wearing a skirt of tobacco leaves and a headdress of tall feathers. Once the US Capitol was built, Constantine Brumidi painted this America as a blended native and euro American painting into the Capitols interior frescoes. The grand architecture of the US Capitol building is the foundation of the most important but least noticed 19.5 foot bronze symbol integrating these cultures upon which the United States is built. This statue is a powerful American image watching over us!

American sculptor, Thomas Crawford (1813 - 1857), working in Rome, began to collaborate with the Capitol Engineer, Montgomery Meigs, and Senator Jefferson Davis, (Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857 in charge of Capitol art and construction) on artwork for the Capitol. Meigs wrote to Crawford “I do not see why a Republic so much richer than the Athenian should not rival the Parthenon in the front of its first public edifice.” Crawford was commissioned to design the STATUE OF FREEDOM TRIUMPHANT IN WAR AND PEACE in 1855 and executed the plaster model for the statue in his studio in Rome, Italy. On May 11, 1855, Meigs wrote to Crawford about creating a statue to crown the dome “We have too many Washington’s: we have America on the pediment, Victories and Liberties are rather pagan emblems, but a Liberty I fear is the best we can get.” He explained: the figure was to be super colossal and would be modeled with great boldness and spirit considering the height.” The identifying features for such an important statue for this fledgling country were crucial in finding America’s identity. The Capitol Building was to challenge the grand buildings of Europe and Russia. Finally, on December 2, 1863, while the Civil War raged on, the statue was erected and hailed by President Lincoln as a symbol of the country's unification.

One hundred and thirty years later, on May 9, 1993, the bronze STATUE OF FREEDOM was removed from atop the dome and placed on the east front of the capitol to be restored. The conservation work was watched over by thousands. When the refurbished bronze FREEDOM was hoisted back atop the Capitol dome on Oct. 23, 1993, with a congressional celebration including a 35-gun salute like her original placement in 1863. Capitol architect George White’s message was "Freedom reigns again," and historian David McCullough said "Liberty is again in her place." Poet laureate Rita Dove composed a poem for the occasion entitled Lady Freedom Among Us, and Liza Minnelli sang America the Beautiful.

Our US Capitol holds an ideal at the pinnacle of the Capitol, the STATUE OF FREEDOM, but she has almost gone unnoticed. Today, as the United States creates policy and expands its influence worldwide in the name of America, Liberty, and Freedom, it is imperative to continue the exploration of the roots of this image upon which these ideas are based!

When you see images of the US Capitol, do you only see a dome or can you see a bronze woman standing there from another time and place? Her strength and beauty are a source of inspiration to Americans and people worldwide. She is a reminder of the importance of women's contributions to American society. She is a powerful but almost invisible symbol of the United States watching over us. Look up to her!