Thursday, January 3, 2013

Field Trip: State Capitol in Raleigh, NC

Some dear friends, knowing of N.'s architecture love, gave him a book for his birthday about the capitol building in our state: A Romantic Architect in Antebellum North Carolina: The Works of Alexander Jackson Davis (2000).  Just before Christmas we toured the capitol with those friends.  We were led through the building (completed in 1840) by a knowledgeable volunteer guide and learned a lot about our state's history (as non-native residents of the Old North State, we are shamefully ignorant about its history, but are gradually working to rectify that).  Some highlights for N. were the cantilevered, self-supporting stairs leading to the third floor, the statue depicting George Washington as a Roman warrior in the rotunda, and the neat law library on the third floor. 

The elaborate faux-grain finishes on the huge pine doors throughout the building had recently been restored, and our guide pointed out that this paint treatment was originally applied when the building was constructed to make the pine doors mimic oak, which was scarce and expensive.  What she did not say was that this labor-intensive trompe-l'oeil could only be cheaper than oak because the artisans were unpaid enslaved people.  I assume that was the case, anyway.  I didn't ask.  There often seems to be an unspoken contract between guide and visitors at public sites that out of politeness we won't discuss the more shameful elements of the history the site commemorates.  Our tour was thorough, but I would have liked to hear more about the artisans and laborers who built the capitol, not only those who designed it.  In contrast, Monticello has in recent years made great strides in telling the stories of the free and enslaved laborers who worked on the estate.

North Carolina State Capitol links to explore:

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