TRIVIAL LIVES:Freedom Speaks Through Us
In my early twenties, I became entranced with the art and technique of fabricating and casting silver, bronze, and gold. I dove passionately into my profession as a metalsmith. I knew it was my life's work. My first teacher inspired me the most, and then my own fascination with metalworking nurtured me as I freed up my creativity. The Berkeley student riots of the ‘70s pulled me into a larger world, offering an intense environment to grow into myself as a jeweler, designer, ritual artist, and community organizer. I began to sell my jewelry at local shows, and museums and shops around the country.
My familiarity with metals and gemstones grew, and form plus style grew out of this bonding. The metals spoke to me in meditations and dreams, shaping my designs and their adaptations from ancient art. My studies in art history introduced me to the early matriarchal cultures, whose earthen Goddess figures embodied a cultural connection between art and spiritual devotion. I began carving Goddess images from my own life's journey as a woman, and saw powerful female imagery everywhere, including on several states Capitol buildings and in central parks. At the time, in California, there was a resurgence of interest in matrilineal societies, and a coming alive in women's art, writing, and teaching. This atmosphere created a renaissance of women’s understanding of history and their role in it.
In 1993, when "Freedom," the statue on the U.S. Capitol Dome, spoke to me in a meditation, it should not have been a surprise. The force of her message was personal, and made me take it seriously. She said, "Katya, I feel so honored to be here on top of the Capitol, but so unseen.” At the time I was already in the process of creating a miniature statue of Lady Freedom for my jewelry line. The original plaster statue by Thomas Crawford that had arrived 135 years earlier from Rome was being taken from the Smithsonian’s basement storage and pieced together. The cast bronze statue atop the Capitol dome in Washington D.C. was being repaired and cleansed, becoming more visible to all. It seemed that I was being asked to do more about the invisibility of this female statue and the spirit she represents.1
I sent a silver pendant of her to Barbara Wolanin, the Curator of the statue, and to First Lady Hilary Clinton to wear at the ceremony lifting the bronze lady back atop the Capitol Dome in October 1993, and received beautiful thank-you notes in return. The buyer at the Capitol Gift Shop bought pendants to sell in the Capitol’s kiosks, and I began to write the story of the Lady of Freedom for a product card with the emblem of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society on the back.
Inresearching Freedom’s story, I read many historical books, articles, and unpublished manuscripts to understand the symbolism and art embedded in this statue. In particular, I focused on the art and politics of the years before 1863 when the Statue of Freedom wasfirst completed and raised to the top of the dome. In 17th and 18th-century Europe, the image of America was a native woman wearing a skirt of tobacco and a headdress of tall feathers. By the 19th century, iconic representations of America combined Native American and European American elements. Thus, Lady Freedom is draped in clothing from classical times, wears an eagle-feathered headdress, and holds instruments of war: bundled arrows representing a strength in uniting together. The native matriarchal cultures along the eastern shores of the United States before the Revolutionary War are represented in the statue through the image of the Peace Tree, eagle, and bundled arrows. The immense freedom of the Iroquois and other east coast women before contact with Europeans also comes through in this powerful female image.
Standing 19 ½ feet tall, 265 feet above the Capitol building, Lady Freedom has been a symbol to Americans in many ways for over 140 years. In the ‘60s, a traditional Hawaiian woman named Morrnah Simeona was sitting on the front lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington and looked up at the figure on the dome. It looked down and said, “Do you know who I am?” Morrnah stated “Oh, you're Pocahontas.” Freedom said, “No, I'm the Lady of Freedom, and from today on your work will be to set me free."
In 1989, Morrnah Simeona presented a Bill to the Hawaiian House Committee on Intergovernmental Relations and International Affairs, asking that the Lady of Freedom be recognized as a symbol of World Peace. In her speech, Morrnah Simeona said,
"Today is a historic and unprecedented occasion. . . . .In 1776 our young country declared its freedom and independence from Britain, yet this freedom was acquired by bloodshed. Today the struggle and bloodshed of the original thirteen colonies still haunts us. As you all know, the ill effect of the Civil War, the bloodiest war in American History, is still with us today. Our freedom today is determined by bloodshed, conflict, and fear. Are we still to continue this heritage of equating Freedom with bloodshed? We are given the opportunity now to rectify and release these past errors so that the United States of America can experience a new birth of Freedom. As a governmental body of the State of Hawaii, you are here today to herald the dawning of a new age of Freedom by acknowledging the Lady of Freedom.
"She represents freedom for the United States of America and for the Cosmos, not just for mankind but also for all of creation. To initiate awakening in the people of our great country is Divine destiny –to bring Peace and Freedom to the world and the entire cosmos which is reflected in the inscription at the base of the Lady of Freedom: ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ out of many one."
This Resolution passed. Morrnah Simeona then met with Hawaiian Congressman Akaka and with George White, the Architect of the Capitol, and sought spiritual guidance. The U.S. Congress passed legislation to receive donations from the public to restore, relocate and display the original model of the Lady of Freedom. Morrnah called her the "consciousness of the nation," and was instrumental in getting the plaster statue, then in many pieces, out of storage in the Smithsonian and putting her in a very visible place. She has been in the Russell Rotunda since 1993, but moved to the new Capitol Visitors Center when it opened in December of 2008 underneath the Capitol grounds. Morrnah said that in order to honor this plaster model of Freedom, each individual American must honor his or her own sacred identity created in the image of Love. The work of the Foundation of I, Morrnah's organization, exists today to fulfill this possibility by bringing ancient knowledge into the present.
This story honors Philip Reid, the ex-slave who cast the Statue of Freedom in bronze in 1858. Embedded in the consciousness of the bronze Lady are the generations of Black-Americans who suffered because of the ideas for which the Civil War was fought from 1861-1865. They were instrumental in the physical work of building our monumental US Capitol.
It also honors Pocahontas, who married an Englishman, the first accepted mixed-race couple who brought the sacred magic of planting, harvesting, and curing Tobacco—an Algonquin agent of change, transformation, and healing—to the Virginia Colony. This act helped to create the first self-supporting English colony in America, and the existing tobacco industry, which became an important financial base for the US. The statue was fashioned more than 250 years after Pocahontas inspired hope for peaceful relations between the European colonists and the original peoples of America. May we rekindle the sparks of peaceful relations.
It was in these United States that my own grandparents found freedom from an oppressive Russian government at the turn of the century. This story is for those who did not leave Russia and other oppressive situations, and did not live. Some people have suffered from misguided legislation and some have benefited from laws being enacted underneath Lady Freedom's feet in the halls of the Congress both before and after her birth in the mid-1800’s. She clears the path for forgiveness in our nation. We can move beyond the contamination of the past, knowing we all have what it takes to knit together families that work, hearts that can heal, neighborhoods without guns, and societies that support the smallest voice in them. We can support the men and women who have the knowledge of how to work together to preserve culture.
Lady Freedom holds the spirit of our founding Fathers with their rich spiritual and political ideals, and the women who walked on the American soil with them, as well as all the indigenous people of America. On January 20, 2009, Barak Obama, who seeks to revive that spirit, was inaugurated near the Capitol Dome. Visitors on the top balcony of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, opened in 2004 across from the Capitol, had a bird’s eye view of the Inauguration. And the whole world saw bronze Lady Freedom as TV cameras panned up to the top of the Dome.
From her place far above and beyond where humans dare stand, almost 300 feet above the Congress, a place imbued with the light of the blue daytime sky and the starry darkness of the nighttime sky, for over 140 years now, 365 days a year, Lady Freedom has been blessing America with love and strength. She is an ideal female image put in an honored place to inspire Americans to do great deeds. The "Goddess" herself radiates a truth. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars are with her, creating a consciousness in every man, woman, and child in this rich land of mountains, plains, and river valleys. We need only to look up and see her.
- Lady Freedom is still mostly unseen; the Capitol has become a fortress since 9/11, and because of this lockdown people remain unaware of “Freedom” and few really see her or know what she represents.
About the author
Katya Miller is a graduate of the Design Department at the University of California, Berkeley. For 30 years, she has been producing cultural imagery through her symbolic jewelry and independent film. Her jewelry designs sell in museums and catalogues nationwide, as well as on the Internet. The sculpted statue/pendant of Lady Freedomhas sold at the US Capitol Historical Society kiosks and the Senate Gift Shop.
Katya began researching the history of Lady Freedom by consulting with the curator and historians at the Capitol, as well as doing years of historical research. Her article “An Appreciation of Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom-A Statue Called Pocahontas, America, Liberty, and Freedom” was published in The Capitol Dome magazine published by the US Historical Society, winter 2007. She is currently writing a book on Lady Freedom and hoping to make it into a documentary film.
email: , jewelry: www.culturalimages.net
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