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Ceres returning to Missouri Capitol: What she means for the state — and women


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — When the very first Missouri State Capitol Commission convened at the beginning of the 20th century, handling construction decisions for the current Capitol building, women in the state didn’t have the right to vote. And yet the commission was steadfast: A woman should adorn the top of the Capitol. 

The 10-foot-4-inch bronze statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, was hoisted atop the Capitol building in 1924. And in November 2018, she came down for the first time for conservation, or repair, in Chicago. 

Ceres’ year-long hiatus from Missouri came to an end on Dec. 6 when she returned to Jefferson City with an unveiling by Gov. Mike Parson and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. She will be on display for a few days near the Missouri Supreme Court before she ascends back to the top of the Capitol building the week of Dec. 16, according to the Office of Administration. 

“Ceres is a treasure for the state of Missouri and the state Capitol,” Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said in a statement. “Having her back home and on display will be a once in a lifetime gift for viewers to enjoy this holiday season.” 

What Ceres represents

Ceres’ was installed in three pieces in 1924 with the help of a pulley system. (PROVIDED)

Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, and the love a mother bears for her child. She represents Missouri’s strong agriculture industry. 

Written in the building plans is the description: “In her right hand, she carries the torch of education, and in her left, which hangs by her side, are a few blades of wheat,” Dana Rademan Miller, a member of the Missouri State Capitol Commission, told The Missouri Times. 

“Her outline will be seen from miles around by her soft glow,” the original planners said, according to Miller. 

When the statue is on top of the building, she faces south, away from the Missouri River and toward Jefferson City. She stands at 10 feet, 4 inches and weighs about 1,500 pounds. 

The renovation process

Ceres makes her way to the ground from her perch atop the Missouri Capitol on Thursday morning (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES.)
Ceres makes her way to the ground from her perch atop the Missouri Capitol. (THE MISSOURI TIMES/ALISHA SHURR)

Funding for the conservation of the statue was included in the bonding package passed by the General Assembly for repairs to the exterior of the Capitol building. About $400,000 of the $50 million restoration project went to Ceres. 

Ceres was sent to the Conservation of Sculpture and Object Studio, Inc., near Chicago. Years of environmental buildup and bronze rot were removed by laser ablation. 

Although Ceres was “in great shape, all things considered,” Miller noted the statue served as an “unofficial lightning rod” for the Capitol. Workers discovered about 300 spots of damage on the statute caused by the lightning. (Missouri’s second Capitol building was struck by lightning in 1911 and burned.) 

While this was the first time Ceres was removed since she was lifted to the top of the building in October 1924, she has had work done on her before. Most recently, a crew worked on her from on top of the Capitol in 1995. 

More history

Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, and the love a mother bears for her child. She represents Missouri’s strong agriculture industry. (PROVIDED)

It was the very first commission that was adamant about selecting a woman to “stand guard over the Capitol” — even though it would still be several years before women could vote in Missouri, Miller, the chief clerk of the House, said. 

“They were predicting how things would go,” Miller said. “It’s fitting she’s on top.” 

Ceres was created by famed sculpture Sherry Fry, who is known for his role in developing American camouflage. 

Although it’s not been proven, rumor has it Fry got his inspiration for the Ceres statue from actress and model Audrey Munson, Miller said. Countless statues, particularly in New York City, and coins feature the late star with iconic Grecian features. A bronze statue atop Wisconsin’s Capitol building was also modeled after Munson. 

Munson had no qualms about posing nude and was one of the first actresses to appear nude in a non-pornographic film.  She was committed to a psychiatric facility by her mother when she was 40; she lived there until her death in 1996 at the age of 105. 

When Ceres was first placed on top of the Capitol, she had to be broken down into three pieces, and a pulley system was used to lift her. 

Ahead of the statue’s replacement back on the Capitol dome, GOP Rep. Mike Moon implored Parson to halt the process, citing the Bible. He asked Parson to keep the Capitol dome “idol free.”

Today, Ceres is a little more modern: She has her own GIF-filled Twitter account