For two centuries, the Jefferson Administration era Capitol building has been lost to history. My project, a product of years of research and production, aims to give that building back to the American people.
I'm creating a thirty-minute documentary movie about the architectural design and legacy of the Capitol, from the building’s beginnings to its burning in the War of 1812. A large part of the movie is based on my own digital analysis and reconstruction.
Few people know the powerful story behind the Capitol. Thomas Jefferson, the polymath who served as the nation’s third president, dreamt of a Capitol that would express the democratic values of the new nation and serve as an architectural monument to the republic. He hired Benjamin Latrobe, America’s first professional architect and engineer, to realize the plans. Despite conflicts, the Capitol's North and South Wings were mostly complete when they were destroyed by the invading British army in 1814, near the end of the war.
For several years I have researched and carefully recreated the building to a state just prior to its burning, focusing on the legendary Hall of Representatives, a great chamber that Jefferson himself speculated might become the handsomest in the world. Thanks to Latrobe's handful of construction drawings at the Library of Congress, and many facts and notes from letters, my detailed forensic reconstruction is now very complete and ready to receive visitors for the first time since 1814.
Was it the most beautiful room in the world? How did Latrobe make the sixty-five foot high masonry walls stand up? Whose ideas about lighting the chamber were better, Latrobe's or Jefferson's? Jefferson was smitten by the dazzling light of the Paris grain exchange's revolutionary glass dome -- which I also have recreated. Latrobe favored the solemnity of indirect lighting and a fireproof masonry dome. Also in the chamber, from 1807-1814, was America's first monumental Statue of Liberty -- conceived organically to the design by Latrobe and carved by an Italian master. I've culled enough clues, dimensions, and references from letters, and one Latrobe sketch, to sculpt the majestic Sitting Liberty.
Two Fellowships from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and the Curator of the Capitol have supported much of my research. But I need your help to present this work to the public. I want to tell this documentary story of the Capitol's first decade using state of the art imagery and techniques.
I'll be the principal investigator, artist, and filmmaker. I'm a graduate of Vanderbilt University (BS in art and engineering) and the University of Virginia (MArch). I designed one of Washington’s modern landmarks, the Metro Canopy Program; this foray into the complexity of public works gives me a deep understanding of Latrobe's various states of mind. I'm also a classical sculptor and painter. I won the Gabriel Prize for the study of French architecture and served as president of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators. A 2011 movie I produced, "Nobody Turn Me Around," won awards for writing and editing and was broadcast on PBS Richmond.
I've created and collected images for this project for many years now. I'm ready to make a few more animations and stills and develop my script to a thirty-minute length. I'll make it in Final Cut Pro on a network of powerful Mac Pro computers. My supporting software includes Adobe After Effects, FormZ, Electric Image Animation System, Photoshop, and more.
My goal for presenting the movie is TV and internet broadcast, screenings at film festivals, and many educational venues such as museum visitor centers.
But I need your help to make this movie.
Please lend your sponsorship and support to this historically, architecturally, and artistically significant project. This will be our gift to America’s history.
Thank you for your support! Richard Chenoweth