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Capitol dome restoration almost ready for public

Restoration work of the dome at the Michigan state Capitol building is nearing its end. And a small group of reporters and legislative staffers got to go up Friday to check out the progress.

One of the first stops on the way to the oculus, or top eye of the dome, is a wall of paintings surrounding the rotunda. Officially known as the allegorical figures, they’re a nod to the muses from Greek mythology.

There are eight in all, representing art, agriculture, law, sciences, justice, industry, education, and commerce.

Barbra Thumudo said commerce is one of her favorites to discuss, noting it’s smaller than the others.

“Either someone here in Michigan relayed some very bad measurements to our artists in Boston. Or the artist, which I’m more inclined to think, just decided, ‘You’re going to get what I give you,’ knowing some artists myself,” Thumudo said.

The renovation offered a chance to give the paintings, and surrounding items like peeling patterns painted onto the walls, some extra love.

Thumudo said it also allowed her team to fix some less noticeable issues, like a gold rim circling the rotunda that they found “a bit tacky.”

“It had been sized 30 years ago for gold leaf, and whether they ran out of time, money, or both, they opted not to do that. So, it was just left as a bit of a Dijon, yellow, mustard color. And we decided that we, on this project, we’re going to add that gold leaf,” Thumudo said.

Higher up, comes the first view of the city, where windows reveal office buildings and treetops. They line the whole interior, allowing for a view from every direction.

Up close, you can see some of the smaller details and flaws hidden from the public floors at the Capitol.

Thumudo said it took a few tries to get the blue looking just right.

An attempt to wash it left a haze because of how it reacted with previous restoration work. And using varnish to fix it didn’t go as planned.

“It just looked like the metal had just been hammered to death. And it’s not a good look. So we opted to use a matte paint. And so, all of the blue was repainted, and every one of the stars had to be cut around,” Thumudo said.

There are 110 gold and silver stars in the dome total, a seemingly random number despite there coincidentally being 110 state Representatives.

Thumudo said one star needed re-work, holding up an example of the gold leaf used.

“I like to describe it a bit like butterfly wings. If I let go of this, it’s just going to flutter around. And it’s very hard actually, because it’s a bigger piece, it’s a little easier to grab, it’s already starting to tear away,” she said.

A few seconds later, it remained floating in the sky thanks to the updraft in the building.

In years past, tour guides used to lead groups up a series of hidden stairs that climbed near the top. But those have since stopped out of safety concerns.

“If there were a medical emergency, it would be nearly impossible to get somebody down. There’s no way to even carry them down on a stretcher,” Thumudo said.

The view was only made possible through the dome restoration project that only occurs every few decades.

The scaffolding has been up since last summer. But it’s finally expected to start coming down next week.

The work done this time is expected to hold up around 40 years, meaning it’ll be awhile before there’s another chance to touch up anything else.