Sculptor honors U.S. Capitol Dome’s history, creators in book ‘Topping the Dome’

Staff Report

Similarities can be drawn from the life of author Richard F. Novak and famed American sculptor Thomas Crawford. Novak credits this familiarity as his strongest motivation for writing the authentic story about a group of American sculptors, titled Topping the Dome (ISBN 1466276789).

Crawford, who created the Statue of Freedom that stands upon the Capitol Dome, sailed to Italy in 1835, when he was only 21, to hone his skills. His hard work and recognizable talent made him part of an elite group that created sculptures for many of America’s most memorable monuments, including the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

During the construction of the Capitol, members of Congress wanted to award more commissions to its own artists rather than foreigners, but identifying talent in the new country was difficult. It was in this climate that Crawford left for Rome, where he met George Washington Greene, an American Consul, and Charles Sumner, a staunch abolitionist. Greene and Sumner helped launch Crawford’s career as they became successful in their own careers.

In America, sculptor Clark Mills was hard at work, proving that what he lacked in training, he made up for in self-confidence. Although this kept him out of the more elite circle in Rome, he steadily worked to showcase his sculpting skills. Mills and Crawford are thrown together at the Capitol in an unexpected manner, making for an unforgettable story.

As the members of Congress argued over the issue of slavery, the supervisor of construction, Captain Montgomery C. Meigs, fought the battles triggered by the collision of art and politics when he selected Crawford as the major sculptor,” Novak said.

The dissatisfaction with the foreign sculptors as Congress fought over slavery made Novak want to share his story even more. This book provides new information about Crawford and the four men so important to his legacy — Greene, Sumner, Mills and Meigs.

While Novak acknowledges that Crawford’s story has been told before, he believes it has never been accompanied with details about Mills, Greene, Sumner and Meigs. He hopes the details and fresh insight to this famed sculptor, paired with his experiences, will create an educating and exciting story for readers interested in art and the history behind some of America’s most famous buildings.

Topping the Dome is available for sale online at and other retailers.

About the author

Richard F. Novak has been a sculptor for more than four decades, working on both private and public collections. His trips to Italy gave him a deeper appreciation for Thomas Crawford and the culture of the ateliers and quarries in Pietrasanta and Carrara. He is a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Rockford campus.

From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue

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