There’s a new face in the New York State Capitol building. On Monday, Governor Hochul unveiled a new Ruth Bader Ginsburg sculpture on the walls of the Capitol’s Great Western Staircase. The famous Supreme Court Justice and Brooklyn native is the first person to be added to the staircase in over 100 years. Ginsburg’s family members and sculptor Meredith Bergmann were in attendance for the historic occasion.
The Great Western Staircase contains the stone portraits of 78 famous American figures such as New York governors, U.S. presidents, explorers, inventors, writers, soldiers, and activists. Ginsburg joins six other women who have been immortalized in the building’s architecture. Those women include Molly Pitcher, a Revolutionary War soldier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Susan B. Anthony, a suffragist leader, Civil War nurses Elmina P. Spencer and Clara Barton, and Frances E. Willard, a temperance crusader.
This Ruth Bader Ginsburg sculpture is the first carving to be added to the stairwell since it was completed in 1898. It took more than 14 years for the stairs to be carved. They are made of Corsehill sandstone from Scotland. When the stairwell was finally finished, critics pointed out the lack of women included in the carvings. Pitcher, Stowe, Anthony, Spencer, Barton, and Willard were soon added, below the second floor.
Justice Ginsburg’s portrait stands apart from the rest as she is the only female to be located on the second floor, a spot that previously displayed only men. She is also the only portrait subject in the stairwell of Jewish descent. Her likeness is located directly above that of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first chief justice John Jay.
The sculpture was hand-carved by figurative sculptor Meredith Bergmann. The entire piece, except for Ginsburg’s glasses, is made of the same Corsehill sandstone as the stairs. The glasses were cast in bronze and painted to match the stone. Bermann is familiar with sculpting famous female figures, as she formed likenesses of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument in Central Park.
To get the best view of the carving, you’ll want to head up to the third floor of the Great Western Staircase and look down.
Next, check out a Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Capitol Building in Albany