Jefferson City, MO 61° View Live Radar Wed H 86° L 67° Thu H 84° L 70° Fri H 86° L 68° Weather Sponsored By:

After nearly a century, Ceres leaving her Capitol perch for makeover

After nearly a century, Ceres leaving her Capitol perch for makeover

November 11th, 2018 by Bob Watson and Joe Gamm in News

Surrounded by newly installed scaffolding, the statue of Ceres — the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships — gets a few last looks of the Jefferson City skyline before being removed Thursday for a year-long restoration makeover as part of the ongoing Capitol renovations project.

Photo by Submitted photo

State officials announced last week that Ceres — the 10-foot, 4-inch bronze sculpture of the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships — is heading from her 94-year perch atop Missouri's Capitol into a year-long "vacation" in Chicago.

Related Article

Capitol interior renovation could take years

Read more

Think of it as a "spa" vacation, where her bronze frame will get a special makeover before she's lifted back to the top of the Capitol and, by then, a new resting place.

Among other things, her makeover will include repairs from lightning strikes.

"Yes, she has been struck by lightning in multiple locations," Cathy Brown, director of Missouri's Division of Facilities Management, Design and Construction in the Office of Administration, said. 
"Surprisingly, the lightning damage is not as severe as it could have been, knowing the statue is hollow on the inside.

"Lightning strikes could have easily created holes and cracks but they did not — a testament to the bronze medium."

Brown noted Ceres has not been the Capitol's "lightning rod" — the building is designed to absorb lightning strikes in several locations, similar to many other buildings that don't have statues at the top.

However,, as the highest point on the building, she was grounded in case she took a lightning hit, "bonded" to the building's structural steel by way of a threaded pipe.

"When re-installed, she will be grounded again for purposes of future lightning strikes," Brown explained. "The statue was in place for almost 100 years and has held up very well.

"We expect that to be the same when she is restored and put back into place."

During last week's news conference announcing the plans to remove Ceres from the top of the dome Thursday, Brown told reporters Ceres' connection to the top of the dome "has truly failed," adding: "I'm surprised, honestly, that she hasn't come loose from the Capitol."

When asked Friday to explain that further, Brown said the real concern wasn't the statue, but the capstone she sits on.

"The statue is connected with steel rods and I'm not concerned that she would've fallen off, but am concerned about how deteriorated the base she is currently setting on," Brown said. "That is that part that has continued to deteriorate, but the steel rod goes through the capstone, into Ceres.

"Again, she is secure, but the base has really weathered over the last 100-plus years."

Ceres was added to the Capitol on Oct. 29, 1924 — 94 years and 13 days ago.

Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe noted during Thursday's news conference, "The capstone, on Dec. 5, will be about 102 years old."

So, its weathering began even before the statue was placed on its top.

And, to make sure Ceres has a strong base to return to at the end of next year — or whenever she returns to the Capitol dome — Brown said Friday: "The capstone and supporting columns will be replaced entirely. Work on the lantern — the upper, smaller dome — is also needed as part of this repair project.

"The damage is caused by the aging and weathering of the stone and column assembly, which is what one can expect over 100 years."

The Chicago trip, for restoration by Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio Inc., isn't Ceres' first makeover.

"In 1937, there was some work done," said Dana Miller, who chairs the Missouri Capitol Commission. "Some water had penetrated the stone and had compromised the capstone somewhat.

"We have photos of that from the '30s, including scaffolding around Ceres."

In 1995, a crew did some cleaning and conservation work of the statue, while it sat in place on the top of the dome.

"This is historic because she's coming off," Miller said.

But, how did Ceres get to the top of the Capitol Dome in the first place?

Miller said Thursday, "She was selected by the first Capitol Commission Board. They felt it was important that a woman be the representative at the top of the dome of the Capitol."

The statue was created by New York sculptor (and Iowa native) Sherry Fry.

In their 1928 report to then-Gov. Sam A. Baker, the Capitol Decoration Commission wrote: "Ceres, (of) all the classic divinities, is best qualified to be the patron goddess of this great agricultural state.

"Her graceful garments seem in perpetual motion as the breezes of heaven play about her.

"She is a truly gracious and beneficent being."

Missouri historian Bob Priddy (an Illinois native who came to the University of Missouri-Columbia to study journalism and never left the state) wrote in his book, "The Art of the Missouri Capitol" that "Fry's statue is of a beautiful young woman exuding a sensual promise of fertility, her hand extended forward and downward in perpetual blessing of the land and its people, as the breezes of heaven play about her."

Fry is thought to have used Audrey Munson, who was known as "America's first supermodel" and, Priddy wrote, was "the favorite model of the New York sculpture community for more than a decade."

Miller told reporters last week that Munson "was a silent movie star and a very famous model at the time (who) was so famous that she was the inspiration for a lot of the public sculptures across the United States from this time period," the 1910s and '20s.

Although Ceres will be coming down this week, in one piece, with the help of a 550-ton crane, she was hoisted to the top of the Capitol in three sections, with workers using a winch-and-pulley system involving a 200-foot cable tied to a large tree on the Capitol's eastern side.

Once she's down to the ground, Ceres will be placed on a flatbed truck, which will then be parked in the media parking area just north of High Street, between the Capitol and Missouri Supreme Court building. This will give the public a chance to view the statue up close for about two hours, before she begins her vacation trip to Chicago.

Commissioner of Administration Sarah Steelman, who is a Jefferson City native, said: "For the entirety of many of our lives, we have admired Ceres from a great distance.

"This month, we will have the rare opportunity to view her up close, to appreciate her beauty and magnificence."

After that, Missourians can follow her makeover-progress by following Ceres on Twitter: @Ceres_MO.

CORRECTION: The parked location of the flatbed truck, on which Ceres will have been loaded, will be in the media parking area just north of High Street. The location was reported incorrectly in the original version of this article, but has since been corrected in the text.