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Historical West Virginia murals added to State Capitol building

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some long-awaited art and eloquence has been added to the state Capitol rotunda

Four historical murals were dedicated Thursday for the state’s 161st birthday celebration.

Thanks to artists from the John Canning company, the capitol’s rotunda now features four brand new murals that depict historical moments and key symbols of West Virginia, including a depiction of the Battle of Philippi, historical Harper’s Ferry and Seneca Rocks.

John Canning

John Canning, founder of the John Canning Company, was on hand for the special ceremony Thursday morning to share more information on the project. Canning says the research of West Virginia’s history was a thorough process before he gave his artists the green light.

“This has been about a six month study before any brush was put to canvas,” Canning said.

Canning also explained that the process for his artists to make the historical murals was too complex to put a timetable on.

“You just can’t look at an artist picking up a brush and immediately starting work,” Canning said after the ceremony.

According to Canning, the plans to get these murals made were in the works for 15 years, but hopes to get historical art of West Virginia’s history in the Capitol dates back to the origins of the building.

When the Capitol was first constructed in the 1920’s, the original architect, Cass Gilbert, had plans for similar murals to go up in the building. With the Great Depression soon affecting the state financially, such art was not able to be funded.

Randall Reid-Smith

State Department of Arts, Culture, and History Secretary Randall Reid-Smith told of the concern Gilbert had for the building when the state was short on money in the ceremony.

“It was going to be basically a shell,” Reid-Smith read Thursday morning. “No windows, no light fixtures, no HVAC, no monuments, and no murals.”

Reid-Smith also credited Gilbert’s historical and artistic intentions when preparing to dedicate the art.

“His intention for murals were to be historical and allegorical, and today, we’re going to dedicate the first four of our eight murals that are historical,” Reid-Smith said.”

The John Canning Company has four more 15-foot tall, allegorical murals in the works that will also be featured in the Capitol rotunda. The additional murals are set to be dedicated in October.

Gov. Jim Justice was also excited to present the new murals to the audience during Thursday’s ceremony. In his speech, Justice referred back to the beginning of his time as governor when some said the arts needed to be defunded around the state. Justice says the arts are the soul of the state.

“That’s our soul. That’s who we are,” Justice said during the ceremony. “Do you really get that? When we give up our identity of who we are, we’re giving up our soul.”

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