HARRISBURG (April 15) – Art students from Conestoga High School got a behind-the-scenes look at the historic and architectural treasures of the Pennsylvania State Capitol this week, thanks to state Senator Andy Dinniman.
Dinniman offered the group of about 30 Advanced Placement Art and Studio Art students a private, guided tour of the historic state capitol building that included visits to the Senate Chamber, the House Chamber, and the Main Rotunda, as well as less- publicly accessible sites like the Senate Majority Caucus Room, the Senate Library and the Lt. Governor’s Office and Portico.
“It was an amazing opportunity to receive a tour of the capital and its beautiful architecture by Senator Dinniman,” said Elizabeth Farrelly, a Conestoga freshman and Studio Art I student who attended the tour. “I was able to get an understanding of the time, money, and effort put into constructing the extraordinary building. The woodwork and tile work blew my mind, and I’m very thankful to Senator Dinniman for explaining the history of it all.”
The visit was organized by Conestoga parent Sandra Forbes. The group was also joined by parent Mindy Bernstein and teachers Leanne Argonish and Piera Raffaele of Conestoga’s Visual and Performing Arts Department, as well as student aid Randi Pickett.
“I felt like I was listening to a favorite professor when Senator Dinniman explained how the art in the State Capitol reflected the nation’s history, economics, and culture. It was a wonderful day,” said Forbes.
Argonish said she was impressed by the Senator’s knowledge of the building’s history and his attention to the students’ interests.
“Senator Dinniman was charismatic, as usual with vast knowledge of the art and architecture in the stately Capitol building. I felt so honored having the Senator take time out of his demanding schedule to enlighten the art students,” she said. “He drew my attention, as well as the students’ to everything from the amazing Mercer tiles to the symbolic works of Violet Oakley. He made us feel so welcome in the Capitol, even adding a preservation tour with staff. I plan on taking students back in the future and I am now equipped with great working knowledge and fantastic stories behind the works in the Capitol building.”
In addition, the students also met with staff members of the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, which is charged with implementing and directing programs to conserve and restore the Pennsylvania State Capitol and its contents for future generations.
Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee and a member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, also discussed the importance of historic preservation and arts education.
“Arts education is crucial to our schools and I cannot think of a better way to help educate our young people the importance of art, art history, and historic preservation than to use the Capitol building – the people’s building – as an example of various styles of classic artwork, design, and architecture,” Dinniman said.
Conestoga High School, located in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, has five art teachers who staff various classes in the Studio Art Program and Elective Art Programs. Its students have won numerous awards for achievement in the arts, including Congressional Art Awards three years running.
Designed by Philadelphia architect Joseph Miller Huston and built from 1902-1906, the Capitol contains 640 rooms featuring priceless murals and stained glass, marble, bronze chandeliers, ornate woodwork and furnishings by some of the best artisans of the day. The one-of-a-kind structure incorporates various Renaissance designs in some of its largest rooms: Italian in the House Chamber, French in the Senate Chamber, and English in the Governor’s Reception Room. It also reflects Greek, Roman and Victorian influences in its art and ornamentation. Throughout the building, Huston blended the various styles with motifs featuring Pennsylvania’s achievements in labor, industry and history, making the Capitol uniquely American.
The Capitol’s centerpiece is a 272-foot, 52 million-pound dome inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Following its completion, the building was the tallest structure between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for 80 years.
In particular, Dinniman’s tour focused on the work of renowned artist Violet Oakley, who was the principal artist for the largest amount of murals in the Pennsylvania Capitol. Beginning in 1902, Oakley was the first woman artist to receive a large commission for adorning a capitol building in the United States. She worked for more than a quarter century, decorating the Capitol building with forty-three murals.