Perhaps no sculptor had more influence on the appearance of the U.S. Capitol Building than Thomas Crawford (1814-1857). His sculptures are featured prominently on the exterior of the Capitol, including the Statue of Freedom, which tops the Capitol Dome.
Crawford was born in New York City. He studied drawing and wood carving before joining the New York stonecutting studio of John Frazee and Robert Launitz. Crawford traveled to Rome in 1835 to study with Bertel Thorwaldsen, the preeminent Danish neoclassical sculptor, and he established his studio there.
In July 1853, Captain Montgomery Meigs, supervising engineer of the construction of the Capitol extension, asked Massachusetts Senator Edward Everett to recommend artists to design sculpture for the new pediments on the East Front. Everett recommended Thomas Crawford as an artist whose statuary would honor both the Capitol and the country.
Crawford designed the Progress of Civilization pediment, located on the East Front of the Senate wing of the Capitol, and the Justice and History sculpture, which is above the Senate doors of the east portico. He also designed the House and Senate bronze doors, which were completed by others, and sculpted the Statue of Freedom.
Crawford died suddenly in 1857 after completing of the full-size plaster model for the Statue of Freedom in Rome. After his death, his widow shipped the model to the United States, where it was cast in bronze by Clark Mills and placed atop the Capitol Dome on December 2, 1863. Crawford's original plaster model is now on view in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center.