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Statuary Hall to Be Complete Today (Finally)

After a collection process lasting 141 years, Congressional leaders will finally finish the decoration of Statuary Hall today as they join members of the New Mexico delegation to unveil a seven-foot-tall likeness of the Pueblo Indian revolutionary Po’pay.

The statue of Po’pay, who is famous for leading an 1860 Pueblo revolt against Spanish settlers in northern New Mexico, will be unveiled in in the Capitol Rotunda at 1 p.m. today — the 100th and final statue to be displayed in the famous Capitol corridor.

The statue, carved out of Tennessee marble by Cliff Fragua of the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, will be the first designed by an American Indian to appear in Statuary Hall.

Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), in a floor statement Wednesday, said Fragua “deserves a word of praise for his beautiful work. Thousands of visitors to Washington, D.C., each year will see this work and gain a sense of New Mexico’s history and our country’s history.”

Fragua’s task was largely improvisational, since historical and artistic evidence for Po’pay’s physical appearance is scant.

Udall said that recreating “the appearance of Po’pay was a particularly difficult problem because there are no pictures or physical descriptions of him. Nevertheless, the stunning sculpture that will be unveiled [today] gives us a powerful glimpse of who Po’pay was.”

Po’pay takes his place alongside New Mexico’s first contribution, a representation of the late Sen. Dennis Chavez (D-N.M.) installed in 1966. Each state is allotted two submissions to Statuary Hall.

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) sponsored legislation to authorize use of the Capitol Rotunda, paving the way for today’s ceremony.

Wilson will be flanked at the ceremony by fellow members of the New Mexico delegation, as well as New Mexico Indian Affairs Secretary Benny Shendo Jr. and San Juan Pueblo Gov. Joseph Garcia.

“This is an opportunity to express our pride in our great state and complete this historic collection,” Wilson said. “Po’pay, a Pueblo leader, led a rebellion against Spanish rule in 1680. As a result, many elements of Pueblo culture survive that might have otherwise been lost. Today, 325 years later, the unique blending of traditions and cultures continues to define the ‘Land of Enchantment.’”

Other members of New Mexico’s delegation attested to the vital role played by Po’pay in Pueblo history, including Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the delegation’s most senior member, who will preside over the ceremony.

“The placement of the Po’pay statue in the Capitol will be very special for many New Mexicans,” Domenici said. “It represents not only the history of a single man, but a legacy that helped ensure the survival of Pueblo and American Indian culture in New Mexico. That culture is today a rich part of what makes New Mexico so unique among states.”

To give the program an American Indian flavor, Garcia will offer a traditional blessing and the Ohkay Owingeh Dance Group will perform a tribal dance.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, helped secure the passage of Wilson’s bill in the House.

“Every year, tens of thousands of Americans visit Washington, D.C., and I believe it’s important to have artwork in the United States Capitol that represents the rich and diverse history of our great country,” Ney said.

The New Mexico state legislature settled on Po’pay as the state’s second Statuary Hall representative in 1997. Udall said “the statue of Po’pay has had a long journey to get here,” and he is “very pleased this moment has finally arrived.”