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