Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Gems of Helena

The first gem is Montana's beautiful capitol building. It looks vaguely familiar, but we'll get to that in a minute.

I really liked this - instead of a metal detector at the door, they had this simple sign.

We had a great tour, with a terrific guide, in the light green shirt.

But wait a minute - the dome is beautiful, but it looks a lot like the one in Pierre, SD. Turns out that after Montana spent quite a bit of money for the design for the capitol, South Dakota turned around and bought the same plans for $15!

So there are many similarities. The Grand Staircase with the "barrel vault" ceiling, and a painting at the end. Here the painting is "Driving the Golden Spike." It shows Ulysses S. Grant driving the spike that completed the Northern Pacific's Transcontinental line.

Here's another view from across the Rotunda. The statues are of Mike and Maureen Mansfield. Sen. Mike Mansfield was one of Montana's best-known politicians. He agreed to the statue before he died only if his wife was included.

Montana also has the faux marble columns called "Scagliola." However, while South Dakota had them to save money, Montana has them to accomodate electrical wiring. Montana was the very first state to have electricity in their capitol, and they are very proud of that fact.

The ceiling of the Old Supreme Court Chamber is very similar to the House Chamber in SD. It features a beautiful stained glass skylight surrounded by paintings of famous moments in Montana history.

The most famous thing in the Montana capitol is this 25' by 12' Charles M. Russell painting in the House Chamber. It shows Lewis and Clark (in the upper right hand corner) meeting the Salish Indians at Ross' hole on September 4, 1805. This is where they got the horses to get them across the Rockies before winter came.

Notice that Lewis & Clark are not the prime focus of the painting. That upset some people at first, but people now realize that it was very clever.

Russell painted the mural in his tiny log cabin in Great Falls, and had to raise the roof to fit it in.

But here's the funny part-- Every person and animal in the painting is focused on Lewis and Clark except this wolf-dog in the foreground. He looks like he's about to bite the head off the Speaker of the House. Turns out Russell did not like the Speaker, but later they made up and became good friends.

The second gem of Helena is the Cathedral of St. Helena.

It is certainly one of the most beautiful churches in the country.

Completed in 1924, the highlight is the 59 huge stained glass windows.

Made in Munich, Germany, 37 of the windows tell the story of Christianity, from the fall of Adam and Eve to the Church in the early 20th century.

The one of Columbus seemed somehow out of place, but I guess I can understand it.

Most were fashioned after medieval art work representing biblical scenes.

The detail painted on each piece of glass is truly incredible.


  1. I guess we should have toured the cathedral. It certainly is beautiful.

  2. There are so many neat buildings here in Helena. But I really like the fact that you can see the Cathedral from everywhere.

  3. Gems indeed! And you got some great shots to go along with your story as well!

  4. South Dakota is really frugal when it comes to spending taxpayer money. Plans for $15! What a bargain.

    Makes me glad to be a SD resident. :c)

  5. You've got some really pretty pictures there. That glass is incredible. I sure admire artists who can do that kind of thing. I'm also impressed with S.D. for being smart and buying "used" plans! That's how government should be!!


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