King Kamehameha stands in a dim corner in the United States capitol Statuary Hall. At 8'7'', he is the largest, and perhaps the most striking statue in the Capitol. Sculpted in a dark bronze, the metallic gold of his chest piece and loincloth stand out against his dark skin. Because he is placed in the corner, away from adult surveillance, children run up to him and dare each other to peek under his loincloth. They ignore the dusty inscription on his pedestal which reads,
Beloved leader who became King by virtue of his ability to unite the warring islands under one government. Ruled wisely and well 1782-1819, encouraged peaceful activities of agriculture and fishing and engaged in brisk trade from the time of Capt. Cook's visit. The flag design he ordered for his kingdom has become the symbol of the State of Hawaii.The inscription coyly defies the horror of Hawaii's historic record as it praises Kamehameha's assimilationist techniques. No where in Kamehameha's inscription is a mention of the rich tapu culture of Ancient Hawaii which falls immediately following Cook's visit.
|The Baptism of Pocahontas is one of the most famous of the historical paintings in the Rotunda. However, it has an infamy that extends beyond the aesthetic or historical implications of John Chapman's painting. One girl among the lines of children on field trips stoutly declares, "I don't care about anything else in this place. I just came here to see the six-toed Indian." Sure enough, sitting in the foreground with his extra toe splayed out for the eager audience to see, is the renowned six-toe Indian.|
But the popular King Kamehameha and the six-toed Indian are not the only American Indians in the United States Capitol. They lurk in dark recesses as statues and busts, are sculpted on pediments and friezes, and worked into paintings and frescoes. This subject matter is interesting in light of the ambivalent relationship that dominant America had with American Indians in the nineteenth century. Why choose to...?
In Art & Empire: The Politics of Ethnicity in the United States Capitol, 1815-1860, Vivien Green Fryd explores this question. She traces the development of the United States Capitol from 1815, the close of the War of 1812, to 1860, the beginning of the Civil War. 1815 is also the year that Congress decided to rebuild the Capitol after the British set fire to it in 1814 (1). Many of the art pieces that decorated the Capitol before the fire were destroyed, so this was a time to both redecorate and reaffirm American ideology through the Capitol reconstruction. Taken together,
the subject matter and iconography of much of the art of the Capitol forms a remarkable coherent program of the early course of the North American empire, from the discovery and settlement to the national development and westward expansion that necessitated the subjugation of the indigenous peoples. No one planned a systematic decorative program in the nineteenth century; yet from the perspective of the late twentieth century, an iconographic and thematic consistency prevails in the art that thematically traces the course of the empire. (1)
The art of the Capitol, in other words, forms a text which delineates, among other things, the dominant class's approach towards race relations in the nineteenth century. As much can be said about the absence of the African American in the Capitol during a time when African Americans are still very much "behind the scenes," (as ex-slave Elizabeth Keckley so aptly named her 186? narrative), as can be said about the oftentime disturbing presence of American Indians in the Capitol.
|The Capitol Extension and the Men behind the Scenes||A Brief Survey of Indians in the Capitol|
|Thomas Crawford'sProgress of Civilization pediment||Exclusions: What's Left Out and Why|
|Works Cited||Suggested Reading and Further Study|