Ceres statue removed from Capitol dome for first time in 94 years

For the first time since 1924 the statue of Ceres is no longer on the top of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.

The statue of Ceres from the top of the Missouri State Capitol building is removed for cleaning and restoration. The removal is part of a years-long project to restore and preserve the Capitol. (Photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The 10-foot, four inches tall and 2,000 pound bronze statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, was placed on the Capitol dome on October 29, 1924.  It was taken down off of the dome Thursday morning by crane so that it can undergo cleaning and conservation.

The removal of the statue from the top of the dome took approximately five hours.

The statue was available for public viewing on the south side of the Capitol for a few hours before crews began preparing it to be taken to Chicago.  It is expected to be placed back atop the dome after roughly a year.

Ceres’ removal and restoration is part of an approximately $50-million project to restore and repair the exterior of the Capitol.

“We’re trying to eliminate the massive amount of water infiltration that’s been occurring in the building over the years,” said Cathy Brown, Director of the Office of Administration’s Division of Facilities Management, Design and Construction.

The Ceres statue is 10-feet and 4-inches tall and was sculpted by Sherry Fry of Iowa. (Photo; Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe said the Capitol’s water damage is somewhat visible from the ground, but when he was up on the dome with the crews that prepared the Ceres statue for removal, it was much more apparent.

“When you get up and look at it, it’s amazing somebody didn’t get hurt; the stones are that deteriorated and there’s that much separation in some of the joints, so this project’s very, very timely for the safety of all Missourians that come down – thousands a year enjoy this Capitol,” said Kehoe.

Dana Miller is the Chief Clerk of the Missouri House and Chairwoman of the Missouri Capitol Commission.  She said the removal of Ceres is the latest step in the years-long project to restore the Capitol.  She said the exterior work represents the second phase of that project, which is about one-third complete.

“The east side of the building is currently what we call, ‘under wraps.’  All the stones – the joints are being ground out, they’re being re-tuck-pointed, we’re doing repair work on the stone that requires, in some cases, replacement.  In other cases it’s just cracks or partial repairs … that is well underway on the east side of the building.  At some point late winter to early spring we’ll be seeing the scaffolding come down when the east side is completed and all that scaffolding will move to the west side.  It’ll go up and then we’ll see the west side of the building under wraps and then that same process will take place on the west side.  The dome is the third factor – the drum and the dome … so when I say about a third of the way, you look at the east side of the building, the west side, and you look at the drum and the dome as the third component,” said Miller.

The statue of Ceres will be taken to a Chicago firm for restoration and cleaning. Several hundred people turned out to see the statue being taken down from the dome and during a public viewing after it was lowered. (Photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

After the second Capitol building in Jefferson City was destroyed by fire following a lightning strike in 1911, Missourians voted to approve tax funding for a new Capitol.  The tax generated approximately $1-million more money than was needed for construction of the Capitol, but all the money it generated had to be used on the building.  The remaining $1-million went into the artwork found around and throughout the Capitol, including the Ceres statue.

Historian and author Bob Priddy said that commission chose Ceres to adorn the dome because Missouri is an agrarian state.  Some have suggested that she should then face north because most of Missouri’s best cropland is found in that half of the state.  Priddy said she faces south because the main entrance of the Capitol is on its south side.

“She’s greeting and blessing the people who come to the Capitol.  That’s why her hand is outstretched.  It’s outstretched in blessing to Missourians.  You outstretch your hand in blessing to people as they come to see you,” said Priddy.

Brown said the plan is to restore Ceres to her south-facing position when the statute is returned to the dome.

Kehoe noted that just as this Capitol’s predecessor was struck by lightning there is evidence that the Ceres statue has been struck as well.

The Ceres statue is hoisted onto a truck before being viewed by the public. It took crews approximately five hours to slowly and gently lower the statute from the top of the dome. (photo; Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

“I asked the conservator, once we had her on the trailer and could see her very closely.  He didn’t know how many of the spots on her head and body were actually lightning strikes, but he has a way that he’ll check that and be able to let us know,” said Kehoe.

Miller said it’s exciting to see the project to restore and preserve the Capitol proceeding.

“It’s very gratifying to see the work happening.  We worked years – a lot of individuals in the building and out of the building have worked hard to get the momentum going and the funding secured to see all of these changes that have occurred,” said Miller.

The Ceres statue will be taken to the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, Inc, in Chicago, for cleaning and conservation.  The last time it underwent such work was in 1995 when a crew restored her to prevent deterioration, but the work was done while the statue remained on the dome.

The statue was created by sculptor Sherry Fry of Iowa.  Some historians believe the statue was modeled after Audrey Munson, a silent film star known as America’s first supermodel, who was the model for countless statues in the nineteen teens and nineteen twenties.

Brown said those who didn’t get to see the statue up close today will have another chance before it is returned to the top of the dome.