the north face apex bionic Familiar face
No one has a better vantage point of Madison and beyond.
Perched atop the state Capitol, the 15 foot, 5 inch gold gilded, bronze statue known simply as “Wisconsin” extends her right arm to the east in a gesture that recalls the state motto: “Forward.”
That may explain why she is frequently confused with the copper statue that isnamed “Forward,” installed near the east entrance of the Capitol in 1895, moved in 1909 to the North Hamilton Street approach and then relocated indoors to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1995 after conservators discovered she was deteriorating.
The Capitol is 100 years old this year. To mark the occasion, the Wisconsin State Journal is producing a series of pullout sections highlighting different aspects of this remarkable edifice. Today, we’re looking at some of the little known and unusual aspects of the building that anchors Madison’s Downtown.
We’ll start at the very top.
Created by Daniel Chester French at a temporary studio on the cliffs of the Housatonic River in Massachusetts, Wisconsin was cast in 1913 and 1914 at a foundry in Brooklyn, New York.
Standing 284 feet above ground and weighing more than 3 tons, she stands unflinching to the whims of the weather outside and the political gusts that blow inside the Capitol.
Her left hand holds a globe on top of which stands an eagle, while a badger, the state animal, rests atop her helmet in a nod to the state’s lead mining industry that was flourishing at the time of statehood in 1848.
Wisconsin was placed atop the Capitol’s lantern in 1914 not entirely without incident. “In its perilous journey upward the statue was brushed against one or two projections and the gilt was scratched,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported in a story noting efforts shortly afterward to touch up her gold leaf.
She was restored with new gilding in 1932, 1957 and in 1990, when she received a $52,000 coat of 23 karat gold leaf. In 2000, workers touched up claw marks left by peregrine falcons on her head and arm.
An appealing sight anytime, the newly shimmering apparition held a special appeal for former Gov. Tommy Thompson after her last full recoat in 1990. Just days before the project was completed, Thompson, needing to burn off pent up energy on Election Day, climbed the scaffolding and is believed to be the first governor to touch the outside of the statue.