Wednesday, April 2, 2014

State Capitol Rotunda Roundels

The Pedretti brothers painted much of the art in the Montana State Capitol, but it was Governor Joseph K. Toole who dictated the subject matter. Toole wanted the Capitol to reflect the people and events important to Montana’s heritage. In the magnificent Capitol’s rotunda, four roundels, painted on canvas in 1902, portray people important to Montana’s past.

The Trapper represents famous mountain man Jim Bridger (1804–1881), who guided many early trappers and explorers into the Montana wilderness. The portrait acknowledges the trappers and explorers who paved the way for the first white settlers.

The Indian Chief represents the Salish chief Charlo (1830–1910), who resisted the removal of his people from the Bitterroot Valley to the Jocko Reservation. Whether Governor Toole meant to emphasize Charlo’s resistance to government authority or his final acquiescence poses an interesting question.

The Prospector commemorates those who exploited Montana’s mineral wealth with pickax and gold pan. The portrait represents Henry Edgar, one of the six discoverers of Alder Gulch. Edgar became a respected member of the early community and lends a special dignity to the image of the rough miner.

Cowboys were already romanticized as a dying breed by 1902, but they provided the foundation for the huge cattle industry that brought immense wealth to Montana. Governor Toole suggested that the Pedrettis study the cowboys in Charlie Russell’s paintings for inspiration for The Cowboy. The cowboy is the only anonymous figure among the four roundels.

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