Art and Architecture
The ceiling and wall murals by artist James Leslie are a profusion of images related to the settlements out West, reflecting the room’s original assignment to the Committee on Territories. Shields of the 1857 territories ring the room: New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota (which achieved statehood the following year), Kansas, Oregon, Utah, and Nebraska. Above the shields, wild animals romp among leafy scrolls, reminders of the territories’ plentiful natural resources. On the ceiling’s four vaults, Native American objects are clustered. A tomahawk and ceremonial headdress are in the north vault; rifle and arrow quiver in the east; crossbow, quiver, and spiked club in the west; and scabbard, pipe, headband, and bear claws in the south. The painted decorations correspond to no specific territories. They speak less to knowledge of Native cultures than to the practice of using Native American objects as symbols of westward expansion.
The room boasts one of many marble mantelpieces designed for the House wing. Its grey stone and elegant curves fit the opulent feel of the mid-19th century building’s style, and the small opening and grate for burning coal were popular with Members of Congress. The Capitol had central heating in 1857, but fireplaces added a method of regulating the temperature for individual committees and Members.