Painting Michigan's Muses

“I had a decoration to do for the Michigan Parliament: there were twelve colossal figures to be painted on canvas to put up on the wall. They represented the virtues and the sciences . . . It was an urgent job.”
Michigan State Capitol Dome

A high point in Juglaris’s career as decorative artist in the United States came on the heels of his residential commissions. He received an invitation to execute a series of monumental muses, inspirational figures drawn from classical Greek and Roman art, for an iconic statehouse in America’s Midwest. Complete with a commanding dome and soaring interior rotunda, the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan was a trend-setting government building of the late Victorian era. It was inspired by the federal capitol in Washington, D.C., which was lavishly decorated with frescos from the brush of another Italian artist, Constantino Brumidi, who had completed his work two decades earlier at the end of the Civil War.

Michigan State Capitol, Lansing, in 1885

Beating out a number of other competitors for the Michigan commission, Juglaris created eight “colossal figures” on individual canvases, each symbolizing “the virtues and the sciences,” different fields of endeavor important to the progress of a state then celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Juglaris completed his commission on schedule. The eight muses were installed in September 1886, the same month that the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in the New York Harbor.

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated September 1886—the same month Juglaris's muses were installed in the Michigan State Capitol

Sadly, Juglaris’s Michigan State Capitol project coincided with one of the worst years of labor upheaval in American history. The turmoil culminated in May 1886 with Chicago’s “Haymarket Square Riot” in which an anarchist threw dynamite at police breaking up a labor rally. A group of foreign-born anarchist leaders were arrested and charged in the deaths of seven policemen and the wounding of sixty more. The pending trial and resulting convictions captured newspaper headlines across the United States for months on end. The episode spawned a national wave of xenophobia and led to legislation in Michigan and elsewhere prohibiting non-citizens from working on publicly-funded projects, like state capitol buildings.

Chicago's 'Haymarket Square Riot' in 1886 spawned anti-immigrant sentiment

In this hostile environment it was suddenly awkward, if not impossible, for state officials to acknowledge Juglaris as the artist of the Capitol muses. Indeed, Juglaris, who remained an Italian citizen, never received public acknowledgment for his Michigan Capitol commission. Without mentioning Juglaris by name or providing the slightest biographical detail, a Lansing newspaper simply described him as “the best artist of his kind.” It took more than a century and careful research before Juglaris was finally recognized as the artist of the muses in the Michigan Capitol.