We pause for a crass commercial announcement

The Book is out. The first fifty copies arrived in Jefferson City Saturday. Several hundred more are coming today.

No, The Book in this case is not the Bible. It’s the Capitol book that co-author Jeffrey Ball and I have worked on for a decade. The University of Missouri Press has taken our words, combined them with some outstanding photography by Jefferson City photographer Lloyd Grotjan, and legislative photographers Tim Bommel and Harrison Sweazea, as well as archival photographs borrowed from London to Taos, New Mexico to publish a stunningly beautiful book, THE ART OF THE MISSOURI CAPITOL; HISTORY IN CANVAS, BRONZE, AND STONE.

Pardon the gushing, please. Even if we had not invested all this time in chasing research leads and composing the manuscript, we would be impressed by the incredible editing and layout done by the folks at UMP.

Of course, they had some pretty incredible visuals to work with. I’ve been in a majority of the state capitols and none can match the decorations of Missouri’s capitol either in quantity or in quality.

So after all this time, there is this beautiful 5-pound, 11.5-ounce, 400 page book. Our capitol deserves such a book. Somebody had to write one. Destiny, circumstance, predestination, the alignment of the planets, divine guidance–whatever word or phrase is appropriate to your philosophy—made us the somebodies.

The book’s coming-out event will be tomorrow, Tuesday, May 10th, when Jeff and I do a signing of the first copies in the third-floor rotunda at the capitol, an area many think of as the most beautiful part of the building, surrounded by Sir Frank Brangwyn’s towering (22×45 feet) murals. There’s another signing next Saturday at the Salt River Festival at Mark Twain Lake and a third one at Downtown Book and Toy in Jefferson City on the 18th.

The good Lord has seen to it, however, that I not become too inflated about this book. Earlier this morning I was showing it to one of our dear friends, a secretary in our company who has helped in so many ways by copying photos and postcards and documents that were part of the research for all these years. I listed her in the acknowledgements.

And I misspelled her name.

I’ve known Joyce Steinman for about thirty years. I wrote her name in the manuscript seven or eight years ago. The manuscript has been reviewed, revised, and proof-read I don’t know how many times—there have been about seven or eight versions of the manuscript. And I never caught that mistake.

Authors live with the lurking fear that the final, finished, permanent product will contain a mistake that hides throughout the editing process regardless of the care that is exercised in repeated reviews of the material and waits to spring from the printed and bound page, snarling about the writer’s incompetence.

This day, a day I planned to spend basking in the praise of others, begins cloaked in guilt. It’s all so… Lutheran.

(I say that not because I’m a Lutheran–I am not—but because I have listened to Garrison Keillor’s interpretation of Lutheranism for so many years.)

We live in a state that has a capitol unique among statehouses. Jeff and I hope this book encourages pride in it, in its art and in the history captured in that art. We hope readers will come to understand that these are not mere paintings by some local folks who learned their techniques from schools that used to advertise on the inside of matchbook covers but are paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows, and tapestries created by some of the greatest names in American art, with a big assist from one of the United Kingdom’s greatest muralists.

There are some in the capitol who do not recognize the greatness around them, perhaps because they are so absorbed by the greatness they might erroneously believe exists within themselves. In adopting that attitude they fail to realize the value of the capitol as a symbol of our state and fail to realize that amidst the greatness of its art there are serious flaws in the building that need repair and correction. Maybe this book, if they care to read it, will encourage them to recognize that combination of greatness and flaws that make our capitol a true symbol of our state and its people. And perhaps they will, while acknowledging the greatness of both the building and the state, become more motivated to correct the flaws in both.

We interrupt this blog for a brief commercial message

The University of Missouri Press sent me a copy of its Spring/Summer 2011 Catalog yesterday

And finally it dawned on me that a decade of work, of research, of writing and re-writing, traveling, interviewing, digging and hoping is actually about over. Next March, if we hit all of our deadlines, a project with roots dating to 1975 will materialize.

Thirty-five years ago, Missouri’s greatest 20th century artist died in his Kansas City studio. I remembered the mayor of Jefferson City, John G. Christy, had told me once about his run-in with Benton after completion of Benton’s mural in the House lounge at the capitol. I grabbed my SONY 110B cassette recorder and headed to the mayor’s office to record Christy telling me how he tried to get the mural painted over because he thought it ruined the peaceful qualities of the lounging room. Plus he didn’t think it was a very good painting.

One of intriguing things about the capitol is that more than twenty paintings that decorate its halls were done by artists from Taos, New Mexico. When I found myself in Taos in 1982, I tracked down the daughters of two of those artists and with my trusty 110B, I recorded interviews with them.

Without walking you through the next 28 years in detail, I’ll just say that somewhere along the way the idea occurred that somebody needed to write a book about the construction and decoration of our capitol. In the late 1980s, I got together with a University of Missouri graduate student named Jeff Ball who was writing about the capitol murals. He also had a dream of a book.

Ten years ago, Tom Sater, who was working on restoration of the capitol (before the money got too tight to afford such things) suggested Jeff and I get together and write that book. Tom and I met one afternoon in the office of Senator John Schneider with Senators Wayne Goode and John T. Russell and worked out a bill creating a state commission to raise money to pay the costs of research and to raise money to subsidize publication of the book. The bill was the last one passed that year.

From that day to this we have been working a book that would not stay written. Because the records of the Capitol Decoration Commission of 1917-1928 disappeared long ago, we have had to piece together the layers of stories of the art, the history of the events the art depicts, the artists, and the stories of their creation of the art. We’ve worked with sources stretching from London to Washington to Taos to San Francisco. We’ve read thousands of pages of newspapers on microfilm, deciphered—often with help of others—what are to us almost undecipherable scrawls that constitute letters from artists or from the commission chairman, followed threads and strings to capture a final detail for a story about a story about a story. We even found some of the papers of one of the decorations on eBay where they were being sold by someone who found them in a flea market.

We’ve found that the paintings and the statues, the decorative windows and tapestries, have stories beyond the canvas, bronze, stone, glass, and cloth that decorate the walls. The human stories and the human history behind the decorations have absorbed our interests and our attentions.

We’ve lost track of the number of pages or versions of the manuscript but the page numbers much be about 3500 and we’ve done at least six or seven versions of the manuscript. Less than a month ago we finally agreed on a title: The Art of the Missouri Capitol: History in Canvas, Bronze, and Stone.

And how the catalog is tangible evidence that the book is going to happen. Here’s the page that talks about the book and shows the cover—a magnificent photo by Jefferson City photographer Lloyd Grotjan at Full Spectrum Photo.

The book will have about 270 photos. The majority probably are by Lloyd and they are spectacular.

University of Missouri Press encouraged us when we started and has stayed with us. The Second Capitol Commission has raised the money for the subsidy. Several days ago we sent our last version of the manuscript to the editor. We’ve given our list of photos to the UMP photo editor.

Until last night, a decade of work was still pieces and pages, parts and pictures.

Then the catalog arrived.

This book is going to happen.

It would be okay with Jeff and me if you bought one for yourself and others for all of your friends.

We return you now to your regular blogging.

Recollections and History

morris-priddyOur friend and former Missourinet reporter James Morris dropped by for a visit last week while he was his national book-signing tour and we spent some time in the studio reminiscing about some of the big things he covered 30 years ago and some of the stories in his new book about Joseph Pulitzer.

One of the things he does in the book that has not been done by previous Pulitzer biographers is dig into Pulitzer’s career in Jefferson City where he served briefly as a State Representative and where he maintained close political ties for some time.

Pulitzer died a century ago, next year. But James has no doubt that Pulitzer would be on the cutting edge of today’s trends in distributing the work of journalists. Here’s our talk with James.

AUDIO: Interview with James Morris [28 min]