Unique, historic day: Willa Cather statue unveiled in the U.S. Capitol Building

Unique, historic day: Willa Cather statue unveiled in the U.S. Capitol Building
State and national politicians look on moments after the cover was dropped unveiling the new bronze statue of Willa Cather now part of Statuary Hall inside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. From left: First Dist. Congressman Mike Flood, Third Dist. Congressman Adrian Smith, U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer. From the right: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. (photo courtesy Office of the Speaker)
June 7th, 2023 | Scott Miller

A new bronze statue of Nebraska author Willa Cather was unveiled Wednesday morning in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C., with Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy saying the addition marked a unique and historic day.

The new statue joins that of the other Nebraska sculpture, Ponca Chief Standing Bear, marking the first time two statues from a single state stand in Statuary Hall, with one on each side of the entrance leading to the House Chambers.

During the ceremony, Nebraska Third District Congressman Adrian Smith called Cather a trailblazer in the literary world, with many of her works an honest and rich retelling of the challenges facing Nebraskans, and their unique relationship with the land.

“Even after moving from Nebraska, her experiences stayed with her and testified to the unique spirit of Nebraska, and many of her timeless of works of literature,” said Smith. “Through her depth and brilliance, Cather earned a lasting place among the great American writers. It is fitting she will now be enshrined here in our nation’s capital, giving its millions of annual visitors the opportunity to reflect on her greatness.”

Also in attendance were other members of the Nebraska Congressional delegation, Governor Jim Pillen, members of the Cather family and the sculpture artist, Littleton Alston.

After the bronze artwork was revealed to the public, Nebraska U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer called Cather one of the state’s finest literary artists. “Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet’… This quote, attributed to Cather, is an apt summation of the author’s life and work. Cather’s vivid, reflective writing has become synonymous with the pioneer spirit of Nebraska.

McCarthy concurred with Fischer’s description of Cather, and said the impact of the author and her work continues well past her death more than 70 years ago.

“Her characters and settings were written with such depth and emotion, that they still captivate readers to this day,” said McCarthy. “As the Noble-prize winning writer Sinclair Lewis later said, ‘The United States knows Nebraska because of Willa Cather’s books,’ and today, Congress will always know her because of the statue as well.”

McCarthy also noted it that Alston’s work marks the first time in U.S. history a piece of art by an African-American artist is part of the art collection displayed inside the Capitol Building.


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