Genius of Fire

Hildreth Meière

marble mosaic set into inlaid marble

Genius of Fire by Hildreth Meière

About this piece

The Genius of Fire depicts a man that rends apart stone with his hands, back, and feet as flames shoot up in the background and the foreground. The Genius of Fire displays the strength of a volcano that is able to move earth.

The Geniuses and Mother Earth on the Rotunda Floor are circled by various prehistoric animals. To accurately depict these animals, Meière relied on Erwin H. Barbour, a paleontologist and the Director of the University of Nebraska Museum. Barbour had artistic talents and provided detailed sketches of prehistoric life on the plains. These sketches were thought to be lost forever. However, some were found in 1982 and donated to the Capitol archives.

The floor mosaics in the Nebraska State Capitol were painstakingly executed by Sunderland Brothers.

Large-scale mosaic was used, the tesserae being about ¾” square, of black marble and buff marble. Dr. Alexander determined the subjects for the panels and Miss Meière made the cartoons, the final ones being drawn at full-size, with a brush, on heavy paper. Some of the brush-drawn lines were thick in spots and thin in others—they were what the Japanese painter would call “living lines.” The patient workmen in de Paoli’s shop [in New York] chipped away at the little squares of marble until they could lay pieces on the lines and exactly reproduce them in the stone. The stones were pasted down onto…brown paper cartoons [which had been traced and reversed from Meière’s original designs] and then cut up for shipping to Lincoln. Out in the Capitol, they were laid [mosaic side] down in their grout, and—when the paper was removed—the pictures were there in their “living lines,” their buff and black squares exactly as they had been drawn with the brush on the heavy brown paper in Miss Meière’s studio.

Harry F. Cunningham, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates Architect

About Hildreth Meière

Hildreth Meière

Hildreth Meière (me-AIR) was one of the greatest American muralists of the 20th century. She was a pioneer in her field and created a more modern approach to murals that differed from the academic traditions at the time. She blended several classic influences, including classic Greek vase painting, Byzantine Mosaics, and Native American beadwork into a style known as Art Deco.

Up until her death in 1961 she acknowledged the Nebraska State Capitol as her crowning achievement.

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