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The Capitol Materials Cart being shown to visitors in Emancipation Hall.

Cool Tools: Capitol Materials Cart

The United States Capitol doesn't just rely on its impressive architecture and symbolism. It is an active campus bustling with excitement and the business of the people of the United States. In recent years, the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) has added first-rate, museum-quality attractions and tours, spaces to promote and assist the work of Congress, and experiences to inspire current and future generations.

Kenneth Armstrong, a member of the Capitol Building’s Sheet Metal Shop, examines a piece of metal; Visitor Guide Jessica Jackson holds one of the cart trays.

In the fall of 2018, the AOC hosted its first ever Capitol Hill Day to showcase the talents of its employees and encourage our neighbors to do so too. Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) education specialists facilitated hands-on activities and assisted with demonstrations that appealed to visitors and Capitol Hill neighbors of all ages. Members of our trade teams showcased their expertise in electrical systems, masonry, sheet metal, woodcrafting and painting. The Capitol Grounds and Arboretum team highlighted the Olmsted Plan and the gorgeous features of the grounds, from living trees and plants to historic fountains and walls. The United States Botanic Garden team encouraged visitors to participate in a wide variety of activities. Attendees also got a sneak peek at one of the agency's largest construction projects, the Cannon Renewal.

Capitol Hill Day was a success. Adult, Family and Youth Program Coordinator Thuvia Martin noticed the public's keen interest in the trade tables and wanted to build on its success. Martin reached out to the Capitol Building jurisdiction to request sample materials and to get background information that could be shared with the visitor services staff.

Visitor Guide Dr. Alyssa Warrick uses the Capitol Materials Cart to interact with visitors in Emancipation Hall.

"During the Dome Restoration, an old piece of the Dome was always popular with visitors. On Capitol Hill Day, the trade displays were popular as well. We really wanted to capture what folks connected with," said Martin.

The Capitol Building jurisdiction brainstormed and came up with easy-to-use trays for the CVC's educational carts. The trays allow visitors to see and touch elements of the building often out of reach or hidden to an untrained eye.

"The job of the shops is to do work where you can't see it. Their goal is to create in such a way that the work is not noticed. This project helps bring to light the amazing talents of members of our team that are vitally important but often hidden from the public," said Historic Preservation Analyst Benjamin Roberts.

Another trade tray used on the Capitol Materials Cart; Capitol Building Mason Shop employee Wilfredo Jovel-Reyes polishes a section of marble.

Launched on February 1, 2019, the new Capitol Materials Cart Program showcases a variety of Capitol trades, including masonry, sheet metal, paint and wood-crafting. "This collaboration was near and dear to all of our hearts. It is special and gratifying that the tour guides will be showcasing the full story of the AOC and the U.S. Capitol Building," said Deputy Superintendent of the Capitol Building Kristy Long. Each tray was designed and built by the AOC team using items already available in their shops. Visitors can now see — and in many instances touch — plaster ornament casts, gavels, molding, copper roof seams, varieties of stone, brick and tiles, cast iron, as well as the gilding and faux painting processes. Each piece is held on the tray with heavy-duty magnets to permit guides to reorganize trays as needed and to allow visitors to hold the items. It is a feature that helps guides educate visitors on weights, textures and historic tradecraft processes.

"This was a wonderful collaboration and a great learning experience about how we all fit together. The trays are so much more than I could have ever hoped for. They look spectacular," said Martin.

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