Kennebec Journal: Work begins on restoration of State House dome, ‘Lady of Wisdom’
By Susan McMillan
AUGUSTA — The scaffolding is going up, and in a matter of weeks the copper will come down.
The $1.3 million restoration of the State House dome has begun. The project consists primarily of replacing the dome’s leaky copper sheathing, which dates to an expansion of the building in 1909-10.
“The workmanship back then was just excellent, but it needs to be replaced so we don’t have problems with the structure of the dome itself,” said David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council.
Holes as large as dimes have formed in the copper, allowing water to seep in. In addition to replacing the sheathing, workers will repair and upgrade the gilded “Lady of Wisdom” statue that tops the dome.
Crews began work in late March. By mid-May, they should be finished erecting the staging, Boulter said. The scaffolding will encase the entire dome. Removal of the old copper will begin by early June, and the whole project is expected to be completed in late October.
“We do not want to go into the winter without that project being fully completed,” Boulter said.
When the State House’s oldest section was completed in 1832, it had a low, saucer-style dome. The current dome was part of the 1909-10 expansion, which added the north and south wings to accommodate larger House and Senate chambers.
“At that point everyone realized that by enlarging the building horizontally, it would significantly change the proportions of the building, and thus there was a need to have a new, much higher dome,” State Historian Earle Shettleworth said.
While most of the State House is built of granite, architect G. Henri Desmond designed a steel support structure for the dome. Gardiner sculptor W. Clark Noble created and donated the Lady of Wisdom sculpture, which is 12 feet tall, including her pine torch.
The statue is mostly in good condition, but most of the gilding that used to cover the copper has come off because of age and weather, Boulter said. The dome project includes regilding the statue and replacing the lighting in the torch with updated electrical materials and a more efficient LED bulb.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Maine’s State House is one of nine state capitols with copper domes. Shettleworth said it’s a common material for domes because copper is fairly pliable and can be shaped to architectural forms.
The new copper will be bright and shiny, like a new penny, for about six months, before it oxidizes and turns a dull brown. It won’t regain its green patina for 30 to 60 years, Boulter said.
Shettleworth said the patina is a decorative feature that suits the building well, and he thinks it will be interesting to watch the dome’s color change.
The project is being overseen by Consigli Construction Co., a Massachusetts company with offices in Maine, and the copper work will be done by The Heritage Co., which is based in Waterboro and specializes in restoring tile and copper roofs.
The project is being funded from a Legislative Council account.
“This is a big project, and it should be exciting,” Boulter said. “We’re building it so the new copper roof will last a hundred years as well.”