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male figure on the left female figure on the right
South doors on Independence Avenue of the Library of Congress John Adams Building. (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Labors in Bronze

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In 2009 when Inside Adams first began, we made it a mission to write about the Adams Building, so I thought I would take the opportunity to write a post about the set of bronze doors on the Independence Avenue (south) side of the building.

All of the bronze doors of the Adams Building were designed by sculptor Lee Lawrie. The ones on the south side of the building were originally the doors to the Copyright Office and feature two figures: a male on the left and a female on the right both of whom represent aspects of labor.  The female figure representing intellectual labor is holding a scroll and is standing on what looks to be Pegasus flying over water. Those details have meaning. The scroll represents intellectual pursuits, but Pegasus? The closest thing I found is that in Greek mythology, Pegasus created the Hippocrene spring which was considered to be a source of poetic inspiration and was sired by Poseidon who presided over the sea, earthquakes, and horses.

As for the male figure beneath the seal of the United States, he represents physical labor and is standing on what looks to be an aqueduct holding some sort of vessel or urn. Given the Adams Building is a federal government building, the seal is an obvious motif.

If you want to read more about the history of the John Adams Building we have produced an online presentation titled “A Handsome Box”: The Adams Building,  but for a little flavor, read the article in the Evening Star published on the eve of the building’s opening.

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