The Goddess of Liberty just before crews hoisted her to the top of the Capitol, February 1888. Image courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission, 1989/090–1.

The Goddess of Liberty

High atop the Capitol dome– sword of justice in one hand and a gilded Lone Star in the other– the Goddess of Liberty has watched over Texas since 1888.

The statue’s illustrious history eventually led to the Bullock Texas State History Museum, where the Goddess was installed in 2000. This summer, her story continues as the iconic statue will receive key restoration this summer thanks to a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

E.E. Meyers’ original design for the Goddess. Image courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Elijah E. Myers included the Goddess in his original 1881 winning architectural plan for Texas’s fourth and final Capitol building, a feature consistent with the Renaissance Revival style of the Capitol and the widespread popularity of both the Statue of Freedom in Washington, D.C. and the Statue of Liberty in New York.

She was cast in a makeshift foundry situated within the unfinished Capitol. Weighing in at 3,000 pounds and at a height of nearly 16 feet, her construction was no small matter. She was assembled, given a few coats of white paint mixed with sand to resemble stone, and posed for a photo-shoot on the Capitol grounds. Afterward she was disassembled into four-sections — the head, arms, and torso — in order to be hoisted atop the dome and fastened with several large iron screws in February of 1888.

Preview illustration of the new Texas Capitol which includes the Goddess, Austin Weekly Statesman, December 16, 1886, accessed via The Portal to Texas History.

When she was unveiled, not everybody liked her face, either from far away or up close. A reporter for the Austin Weekly Statesman referred to her as “Old Lady Goddess.”

Seen from the ground, the Goddess looks like the stately figure she is intended to be. Seen up close, however, she’s not quite so attractive. But that’s for a reason. The Goddess’s facial features were exaggerated so that she would look normal to people standing 300 feet below her.

In the late 1920s or early 30s, and perhaps motivated by her harsh features, she was transformed into a “real lady.” Her hair was painted black, flesh pink, dress blue, and her sash a bright golden hue. Whatever the reason, this technicolor aberration didn’t last and she was restored to her original white coloring in the 1930s.

1983 photograph showing the original Goddess’s significant deterioration. Image courtesy of Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The Goddess stood proudly for nearly one hundred years before signs of cracking were evident. Workers repainting the Capitol dome in 1983 noticed significant deterioration along the back of the Goddess’s arms and right hand, as well as her sword. After being perched on the dome for nearly 100 years, pollution, lightning, temperature changes, and wind had taken their toll.

In November of 1985, with the help of the Texas National Guard, the State Preservation Board removed the 3,000 pound statue from the top of the Capitol for restoration.

An exact replica made of aluminum and weighing 1,000 pounds less was cast from the original molds. Though the replica was lighter, placing her on the Capitol dome was no easy feat. With the help of the Mississippi National Guard’s rare Sikorsky S-64 “Skycrane” helicopter — which allowed the pilot a direct view of the target location — she “flew” her way atop the dome on June 14, 1986.

Once the original sculpture was restored, she was taken on a brief tour to Fort Worth, the 1986 State Fair of Texas and the Texas Capitol grounds for the 1988 Centennial Celebration before moving to the Texas Memorial Museum. The statue remained there until she was moved to the Bullock Museum on September 18, 2000.

However, again her size became an issue. Because she was too large to fit through the doors, she was placed inside the Museum very early during construction. The Museum was literally built around her.

The Bullock Museum under construction. The Goddess of Liberty was already installed inside the building.

Now, once again, the Goddess is in need of preservation. This summer, she will receive some key restoration work thanks to a $20,000 grant to the Texas State History Museum Foundation from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

“The Goddess of Liberty is one of the most significant and prominent artifacts in the Museum,” Interim Director Margaret Koch said. “The State Preservation Board is honored to receive funds from Bank of America through the Texas State History Museum Foundation to keep her in the best possible condition for everyone to enjoy. The conservator will work during the Museum’s open hours so visitors will get a sense of the science and care that goes into conservation treatment.”

The conservation grant allows for an assessment of the stability of the iconic statue by an art conservator and completion of a recommended course of specialized cleaning and treatment of minor repairs to the exterior paint layer. B.R. Howard and Associates has been named as the conservation company to complete the project. Conservation work will be available for public viewing from July 10–17, 2017.

Robert Warden of the Department of Architecture in conjunction with the Texas A&M Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation scans the Goddess of Liberty statue in advance of conservation work to create a 3D model.

Additionally, three-dimensional laser scanning and photogrammetry have been conducted by Robert Warden of the Department of Architecture in conjunction with the Texas A&M Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation to help document the statue’s condition before and after treatment. The laser scans and photogrammetry will be combined to produce a finely textured 3D model of the Goddess.

Whether on the Capitol Dome or in the Bullock Museum, the Goddess continues to represent the liberties of all Texans, including those who came before her, those present now, and those who will share our landscape in the future.

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Official account of the Bullock Texas State History Museum. We tell the Story of Texas. #BullockMuseum