The Goddess Returns
Ceres is back home. As of Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, she is where she belongs, standing atop the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. For the past 13 months, Ceres has been away in Chicago, where she was repaired, cleaned and made ready for many more years standing watch above Missouri’s seat of government.
The 1,400-pound copper and bronze statue of the Roman goddess of agriculture began this monumental day laying on the snow-covered lawn of the State Capitol. The sun shone bright at 8:30 a.m. as men in yellow safety jackets hovered around her. One worker gingerly touched Ceres’ outstretched hand at the moment an enormous crane began tugging on the straps around her waist. More straps attached to a front loader tractor steadied her feet as she rose prone above the cold ground. As the smaller machine reached its maximum height, the crane took the entire load, raising Ceres to a vertical position.
A Missouri flag waved above her head as Ceres dangled upright for the next 45 minutes. With the lieutenant governor and a small circle of onlookers watching, Ceres began a smooth, quick ascent to her perch 240 feet above. Soon, she was almost entirely lost from view, shrouded by scaffolding and protective wrap that surrounds the Capitol dome as part of a three-year restoration effort.
Originally installed on the Capitol dome in 1924, Ceres has remained on guard through nearly a century of winter ice and spring storms. Examination of the 10-foot, 4-inch statue revealed evidence of some 300 lightning strikes. The artisans of the Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio in Chicago used lasers to remove 94 years of accumulated grime and corrosion. That work completed, it was time for the lady to return home.
It was surely an easier lift than Ceres’ first trip to the pinnacle of the Capitol dome. In those days, large cranes did not exist and the goddess was raised in three pieces, using pulleys and steel cables secured to an elm tree on the Capitol grounds. She was assembled in place, where she stood until November 2018. Her only attention came in 1995 when she received a partial facelift.
Missouri’s Ceres was created by noted sculptor Sherry Edmundson Fry. Supposedly, the inspiration for her facial features was a turn-of-the-century actress named Audrey Munson. Considered America’s first super model, Munson either posed for or inspired dozens of sculptures. Fry’s interpretation of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships holds a bundle of grain in one hand, the other extended, as if to offer her bounty.
The removal and reinstallation of Ceres have been closely watched by residents of the capital city. Crowds gathered a year ago when she came down. The removal was broadcast live on the Internet and many visitors paid their respects as she lay on a trailer waiting the trip to Chicago. Upon her return to mid-Missouri, Ceres remained on display on the Capitol lawn for the better part of a weekend. The Capitol Police provided 24-hour security as the curious stopped by to see the renovated statue.
Frigid winter temperatures kept most onlookers away as Ceres soared back to her perch atop the dome but the event was shown live on Facebook and state government websites. Although Ceres has returned to her post, the work on the Capitol will continue beneath her. The project to repair damage to the Statehouse masonry, which began in March 2018, will carry on another year. The work is expected to be completed in time for inauguration ceremonies on the Capitol’s south lawn in January 2021.