Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Everyone recognizes Penn­sylvania’s opulent State Capi­tol as an architectural landmark, one of the truly outstanding public buildings in the world. Yet few realize that until very recently there existed no legal authority ensuring the preservation of this landmark structure. The creation in 1982 of the Pennsyl­vania Capitol Preservation Committee by the state legisla­ture was a major step in assur­ing responsible stewardship for the proper restoration and protection of the building, its original furnishings and collec­tions, as well as for the historic edifices which make up what is known as the Capitol Com­plex.

Eight members of the Gen­eral Assembly of Pennsylvania serve on the committee and provide leadership for its proj­ects and activities. Chaired by legislators, various subcom­mittees address every facet of an ambitious program that includes research, restoration, conservation, and publica­tions. It is my privilege to serve as a member of the Pennsylva­nia Capitol Preservation Com­mittee, along with six public officials and dedicated citizens. A small – but extremely capable – staff provides admin­istrative and technical support, and the state Department of General Services (DGS) offers invaluable assistance on all committee projects.

Despite its brief lifetime, the committee’s accomplish­ments are quite impressive. The most visible projects, of course, have been the restora­tion of the magnificent interior details and artwork, including the important murals by Edwin Austin Abbey, and the painstaking cleaning of wall coverings and ceiling colors. The exquisite murals by Penn­sylvania’s own Violet Oakley (see “Violet Oakley, Lady Mu­ral Painter” by Patricia Likos in the fall 1988 issue) gracing the Senate Chamber, the Supreme Court Chamber, and the grand Executive Reception Room have been fully restored. The suite housing the lieutenant governor’s offices has been extensively restored and is, in itself, one of the greatest showpieces in the entire Capi­tol Complex!

The Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee also oversees exterior preservation projects, such as the conserva­tion of the handsome bronze light standards flanking the structure’s main entrance and the bronze statues of politician Boise Penrose and Gen. John Hartranft. All objects in the State Capitol’s varied collection – chandeliers, clocks, chairs, bookcases and cabi­nets, desks – are all within the purview and responsibility of the committee. One of the most significant holdings is the far-reaching collection of four hundred battle flags of Pennsylvania’s Civil War era regiments. The documentation and conservation of these flags have required the creation of a highly specialized laboratory and consultation with expert textile conservators. A liberally illustrated book, Advance the Colors!, showcasing the flags and featuring histories of the various regiments, has been published by the committee.

The goals of the Pennsylva­nia Capitol Preservation Com­mittee are, to say the least, ambitious. The committee’s projects are often complex and costly – sometimes even con­troversial. But preserving the State Capitol is more than a matter of simply saving an important structure. The sig­nificance of the building tran­scends the statuary and the murals, the carved panels and the jewel-like stained glass windows, and the corridors paved with tiles by Henry C. Mercer …. The State Capitol is a monument to the Common­wealth’s political and civic traditions. It is the place where our public values are protected and sustained. The careful and assiduous effort to preserve this architectural masterpiece is more than one of historic preservation; it is a reflection of our commitment to preserve a free and just society.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director