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A Monument More Lasting Than Bronze: The Minerva Mosaic and the Disappearance of a Library

Minerva Mosaic Library of Congress by Elihu Vedder
Minerva Mosaic Library of Congress by Elihu Vedder. Photo by Wayne Stratz


My husband and I are back from a vacation to Washington DC, which was a visual delight.  I made sure to go to the Library of Congress, since I am a librarian by training, and the Jefferson Building’s mosaics coincided with my artistic passion.  This mosaic of Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom and Learning, has its own niche at the top of a flight of stairs and was designed by Elihu Vedder.

The mosaic even has its own lesson plan online for teachers, and explains the symbolism of the shield being on the ground–it is a sign of peace, though Minerva is ever vigilant with her double pointed spear.  Observing such a display of tribute to learning, I felt a sense of loss of library as place.  According to the LOC website, “The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing ‘such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress — and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein….'”

Minerva Mosaic Library of Congress by Elihu Vedder, Full View
Minerva Mosaic Library of Congress by Elihu Vedder, Full View. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Ironically, in spite of this gorgeous building, the Latin motto at  
foot of the mosaic translates to “Not, unwilling, Minerva raises a monument more lasting than bronze.”  The knowledge that is gleaned from this great collection is enduring.  But I also believe that the beauty of these mosaics endures as well, speaking to another kind of knowledge.

I came back to work at my hospital library on Tuesday, and was met by my supervisor telling me that the administration had chosen to close the library and eliminate my position as librarian.  He was very kind, and gave me all the time I needed to gather up my things from 12 years of service.  It was very difficult to believe it was happening.  I am deeply sad about leaving the people who have come to me with questions and needing information to help patients or further their education.  I am also sad about leaving people who were my friends without a chance to say goodbye.


I do know that the knowledge I shared with them cannot be closed down, that it will remain.  I also had the opportunity to bring my mosaics to a hospital craft show in March, and I am happy to know that several of my colleagues have some of my artwork as a presence in their lives.  But it’s still hard to be gone.

One comment

  1. Kathryn J says:

    Margaret – I am so sorry to hear about your job. I know how much you enjoyed it and it seemed so vital. I hope something better comes along very soon.

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