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Charleston State Capitol Sculptures
Item 2 of 16
This is a contributing entry for Charleston State Capitol Sculptures and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
The west entrance to the main capitol building hosts the first three of John Donnelly, Sr's. mythological busts. From left to right, these three sculptures depict the Roman goddesses and god Vesta, Neptune, and Ceres. In Greek mythology, the figures are known instead as Hestia, Poseidon, and Demeter, respectively. On the left, Vesta wears a domestic cap and veil, apropos for the goddess of home and hearth. In the middle, Neptune's curly hair is crowned by a shell, signifying his role as ruler of the seas and oceans. On the right, Ceres wears the vestments of a farmer and her hair hangs like the crops she bestowed upon mankind.

  • Brown, Photograph, Sculpture, Wall

Between 1924 and 1930, stonemason John Donnelly, Sr. created twelve busts that grace the main West Virginia State Capitol building. These busts are drawn from the Greco-Roman tradition and feature gods, demigods, and heroes from their mythologies. Though the twelve figures are representative of various values and facets of life relevant to government, there does not appear to be a particular overarching theme. The twelve busts are divided equally between four entrances to the capitol building. The portraits are skillfully carved and wonderfully distinct — there is no doubt who each figure is meant to represent. The busts act as an extension of the keystones in entryway arches, providing depth and ornamentation to the capitol building. Though the busts have suffered little permanent damage, they are dirty and in need of cleaning and restoration.

Donnelly was an Irish immigrant who came to the United States in the late twentieth century and soon gained national attention for his work on major public and civic buildings up and down the East Coast. These projects included gargoyles for New York City's public library, the pediment for the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the bronze doors to the United States Supreme Court. Many of these projects were collaborations with architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the WV State Capitol building and likely commissioned these works by Donnelly. Donnelly ran a business named John Donnelly & Co. with his son, John Donnelly, Jr., and many other skilled masons. Though Donnelly's works are often sculptural, he preferred to be known as a stonemason rather than as a sculptor or artist. 

Ceres, Britannica. Accessed January 13th 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ceres-Roman-goddess.

Harding, James E. West Virginia Capitol Complex, National Register of Historic Places. April 11th 1974. Accessed January 12th 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/kanawha/74002009.pdf.

"JOHN DONNELLY, 80, STONE CARVER, DIES; Noted Architectural Sculptor Worked on Many Buildings Here and in Washington." The New York Times (New York) July 12th 1947. , 13-13.

Mark, Joshua J. Vesta, Ancient History Encyclopedia. September 2nd 2009. Accessed January 13th 2021. https://www.ancient.eu/Vesta/#:~:text=Vesta%20was%20the%20goddess%20of,was%20swallowed%20by%20her%20father.&text=Sacrifices%20to%20the%20gods%20of,and%20thrown%20into%20the%20flames..

Murphy, Paula. The Irish Imprint in American Sculpture in the Capitol in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. The Capitol Dome, vol. 55, no. 230 - 43. Published January 1st 2018.

Neptune, Britannica. Accessed January 13th 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Neptune-Roman-god.

West Virginia Capitol Building, MH3WV. Accessed January 12th 2021. https://mh3wv.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/West-Virginia-State-Capitol-Building-MH3WV.pdf.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Accessed January 12, 2021. https://mh3wv.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/West-Virginia-State-Capitol-Building-MH3WV.pdf.