The Golden Pioneer

The Golden Pioneer


The 23-foot tall, 8.5
ton Golden Pioneer which adorns the capitol dome is a symbol of Oregon’s pioneering spirit. In 1938, a New York architect
by the name of Francis Keally was commissioned to design Oregon’s third
state capitol after the second one was lost to a fire. Keally commissioned a New Jersey artist
Ulrich Ellerhusen to sculpt and cast a monument for the new capitol building. At his workshop in New Jersey, Ellerhusen sculpted
5 models out of plaster before settling on the design we see today. Due to the nature and size of this project,
Ellerhusen had special doors put in this workshop. His friend Aileen Eveleth Hament described
it this way: It was a very large piece of sculpture. And he had to have a door built
in his studio so he could roll it outside
and see it in the daylight. Because he knew that pioneer would
stand on your capitol in the sunshine, and he wanted to make sure
it was a beautiful piece. Ulrich Ellerhusen, a German-born sculptor
who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago is also known for
accomplishments that include Ornamental designs that adorn the
outside of the Louisiana State Capitol, weeping figures on the colonnade at the San
Francisco Palace of Fine Arts, Additions to the Tympanum over the entrance
of the Oriental Institute in Chicago. When finished, the final Golden Pioneer
was sculpted of bronze. After work was completed in 1938 the Golden Pioneer was loaded on a steamship
and travelled via the Panama Canal to Oregon. Upon arriving in Oregon, the Golden Pioneer was
loaded on a flatbed truck and transported to the new state capitol. There were a whole bunch of us. And my older cousin was much more adventuresome and he was even uh… when they weren’t looking
and it was off the truck but on the ground. uh… he was even climbing up into
it. Times were more relaxed back then. People weren’t so worried about lawsuits. Kids could get into a lot more trouble. In an era before helicopters and hydraulic cranes,
workers spent 3 days using a makeshift wooden crane, pullies and muscle to hoist the Golden
Pioneer 160 feet to his perch on the capitol dome. Workers then constructed a plastic cocoon around the statue
so the gold leaf covering could be applied. When gold leaf is added this is called gilding, and was used to cover the bronze which keeps
it from tarnishing. This allows for easier cleaning in the future. The cocoon prevented the fine leaf from being damaged
during its application. Every 20 to 25 years, the Golden Pioneer has been re-gilded to
repair damage brought on by years of oxidation and weather. With the cost of re-gilding escalating
over the years, funds have relied mostly on private donations and community fundraising. In 1984, Oregon school children
raised more than thirty seven thousand dollars in coins, mostly dimes, which covered the cost of re-gilding
the statue. Once again workers erected scaffolding and
a cocoon around the statue, this time with the help of modern equipment. The Oregon Pioneer statue actually broke
free and rotated up on its pedestal and had a complete sheer crack all the way
around. When the pedestal had fractured, we came back in and decided we needed to re-attach the
brick and the marble. So we
epoxy-injected the joints and put in some large diameter steel rods
and put everything back in compression. During our seismic retrofit, we were able to remove the large diameter stainless steel bolts that
we installed after the Scotts Mills quake and replaced those with a reinforced
concrete wall and tied the brick together with the marble and was able to reattached the Pioneer
to the reinforced concrete walls. Something
that was omitted from the original 1937 drawings. In 2000, the State Capitol was in the process
of being re-caulked due to leakage in the exterior marble. During the process it was determined the Golden
Pioneer was very oxidized and corroded. A scaffolding was put around him to determine the advanced state
of damage. Upon inspection it was decided to re-guild
again. This magnificent monument that graces
the top of the Oregon State Capitol building reflects the courage and pioneering spirit
of Oregonians. He is symbolic of the pioneers that came to Oregon originally. He faces north
but his head is looking west. That’s what the pioneers were doing when they came out here, heading west. Coming to
Salem you can look up and see the Gold Man on a sunny day especially, and you know
that’s where the Capitol is. You know where you’re going

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