The art of politics: Imagination and craft come together at Capitol

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Sculptor Hugh Branford Nicholson's cast stainless-steel and aluminum dolphins at the Florida Heritage Fountain in Waller park on the west side of the Capitol building. Joe Rondone

When the Florida Legislature is in session, the Capitol complex buzzes like a hive of purposeful political bees. When the hum of the hive and the crush of the maddening crowd reach a fever pitch, it can clear the mind and refresh the soul to contemplate the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth.

Amidst the hectic halls of power lie oases of beauty and calm. The Capitol complex is adorned with sculptures, murals, paintings and other works that illustrate and celebrate Florida history as well as delight the eye.

Art is all around, whether it be the colorful chains of paper hands hung in the Rotunda during Children’s Week (this year’s Hanging of the Hands takes place Jan. 24) or the works by Florida artists featured in rotating exhibits in the 22nd Floor Gallery.

Here are some (but by no means all) of the places to take an art break in and around the Capitol. For more information, stop by the Capitol Welcome Center on the west plaza level, or check out the website at

Waller Park’s Stormsong sculpture: Sculptor Hugh Bradford Nicholson’s gleaming cast stainless-steel and aluminum dolphins leap and frolic above the Florida Heritage Fountain as the centerpiece of Waller Park on the west side of the Capitol building. The sculpture, which celebrates Florida wildlife, was dedicated in 2003 and was funded by the Anheuser-Busch Foundation through the vision of Susie Busch-Transou.

Murals from Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still of Florida history in the House of Representatives chambers.

Florida House of Representatives: Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still captured Florida history – from the first native peoples to the Space Age – in a series of eight murals installed in the House chamber in 2001. In 2003, he added two more murals depicting the beauty and mystery of Florida’s underwater springs and oceans. The panoramic works include optical illusions, hidden images and 3D effects. Organized groups – primarily schoolchildren – can tour the chamber, according to Mikey Chmielewski, the House civics coordinator, and reporters and visitors can catch glimpses of the works from the press and public galleries. But the murals were created primarily to surround the 120 representatives who work in the chamber with reminders of that for which they toil.

James Rosenquist’s murals, two “Images of the Sunshine State” portray recreation and industry in Florida at the Captitol building’s entrance.

James Rosenquist’s murals: For more than three decades, pop art legend James Rosenquist has called the village of Aripeka in Hernando County home. Rosenquist, whose iconic masterpiece “F-111” hangs in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, was commissioned by the Florida Legislature to create two murals for the new Capitol building. Completed and installed on the west plaza level in 1978, the two “Images of the Sunshine State” portray recreation and industry in Florida. The enormous, colorful and slightly trippy works draw art lovers from around the world as well as curious Floridians.

The Caitol Gallery on the 22nd floor of the building.

22nd Floor Capitol Gallery: Not only can you get a glorious panoramic view of Tallahassee (and, on exceptionally clear days, the coast) on the top floor of the Capitol building, you can also admire the works of Florida artists featured in exhibits in the gallery housed there. Overseen by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, the gallery has featured exhibits by such noted Florida artists as Richard Bickel, Romero Britto and Xavier Cortada. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit to find out what’s currently on view.

Exhibits are on display at the Historic Capitol Building.

The Historic Capitol: Ardent architectural historians would argue that the Historic Capitol located across the plaza to the east of the current Capitol Building is itself a work of art. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Capitol, as most refer to it, was completed in 1845, just in time for Florida’s entry into the United States as the 27th state. The classical style dome was added in 1902. The Old Capitol underwent restoration from 1978 to 1982, when it reopened as an auxiliary of the Museum of Florida History. The gallery at the Old Capitol houses rotating exhibitions that highlight Florida history and personalities. It is a lovely, charming structure imbued with peace and grace. Stand in the Rotunda and look up to the dome for a stained glass vision of beauty. Find out more at


Museum of Florida History: Located two blocks west of the Capitol complex, the museum is a trove of artifacts and information about the cultures and heritage that have shaped the Sunshine State. The new permanent exhibit “Forever Changed: La Florida 1513-1821” chronicles the state’s history from the time of its native peoples through the period of Spanish exploration and up to its adoption as a U.S. territory. This rich period is depicted in dynamic displays and fascinating artifact collections. Be sure to check out the museum’s collection of paintings by the Florida Highwaymen, one of the largest such collections on public display. Find information about hours and exhibits at

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