Washington State Capitol

Capitol Steps

Capitol Steps

My original idea for this post was to share some photos I made at the State Capitol but it expanded as I reflected on the importance of what it represents. So, this is a longer post than usual.

The first time I saw the State Capitol in Olympia was through the windshield of my Volkswagen MicroBus. We were just moving to the state where I had accepted a faculty position. Fresh out of grad school, this was a serious road trip, with two infants and everything we owned in the bus (we had shipped our books ahead) as we ventured north from Southern California, seeing friends and family in San Francisco, camping in the Redwoods, finally arriving in Washington State. As we approached Olympia we saw the popular brewery in Tumwater, and within minutes the dome of the Capitol Building came into view. We ventured on, driving north through Seattle and detouring through Everett as the Interstate was still under construction. We camped at Larrabee State Park a few nights until we found a place to live. Teresa Olbrantz was the first person I met on campus in Bellingham, and she knew of just the place for a young family to rent.

During my early years as a young artist and faculty member I focused my creative energies on teaching and working in the studio, making art, and going to museums and galleries up and down the West Coast: Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, SF, LA, San Diego. My etchings and lithographs were included in exhibitions at The Library of Congress, The Philadelphia Print Club, The Brooklyn Museum, and around the country in community and university art galleries. At the invitation of George Tsutakawa one of my paintings was included in the Governor’s Invitational at the State Capitol in Olympia; and a few of my etchings are in the Washington State Art Collection.

In 2006 Annie and I relocated to Olympia and became involved as regular participants in events at the State Capitol, attending concerts at the Governor’s Mansion, touring the campus and viewing the art collection. Since 2017 our involvement has intensified; we have been more active in lectures, rallies, and demonstrations held at The Capitol. With the events of the past few years I came to fully realize the beauty and importance of what a state capitol represents – especially after the 2020 attack on our democracy and the horrific attack on our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021.

One of the remarkable things about a state capitol is that it is a gathering place to voice differing points of view, a place where ideas can be presented and discussed, voiced on the steps of the capitol, argued in the legislative chambers and other buildings.

I think we can all agree, that we can disagree. We don’t always agree with some of the arguments and even some that become enacted into law. But we agree to live by those laws and work to make better laws and strive for social justice. We discuss and exchange ideas, and most importantly we express our concerns with our votes at the ballot box.

When I began attending events at the capitol I wondered how I could make a contribution beyond just being there. I’ve never been a flag-waving card-carrying member, but I do march and stand with people and causes I support. As an artist my thoughts turned to recording, documenting, and presenting the concerns of friends, neighbors, and the communities gathered to creatively express themselves.

During the pandemic we all became more cautious, concerned, and aware of the importance of paying attention to the science. Demonstrations and rallies became all the more important, especially in the face of intolerance. In Olympia rally sponsors and organizers stressed the importance of masking and social distancing, so events continued. Many of my photographs from these events are found in various posts on this website and gathered in a folder on my Flickr account.

I’ve grown to appreciate the buildings on the Capitol campus, as architecture, history, and what they represent. Last September when we were in Chicago, and we all thought we were emerging from the pandemic, I composed a series of photographs to accompany several posts documenting the “covid” years, the rallies I attended as well as solitary days of walking, mostly in deserted downtown. In hindsight we were all being overly optimistic that summer of 2021, hopeful that we were in the process of re-emerging into society and culture. I thought my emergence series would resonate with those who had also been in isolation, marking the end of the pandemic that we could all rejoice and life would return to normal.

In July, between our two trips to Chicago in 2021, we went to the Capitol to attend a rally. When we arrived we found the Capitol Steps empty, no one around. Had the event been cancelled?  We thought perhaps we’d misread the information and gone to the wrong location. But no! In our excitement to participate and be out in a safer environment with pandemic on the decline…we had missed the date by a week. Hah! We were a week early.

But on that day we found The Capitol had just re-opened to the public after being closed for much of the past two years. We found our way inside, in these grand spaces with only a few other visitors. One can’t but be in awe in these kind of neoclassic architectural spaces. The scale, and abundant use of marble is at times overwhelming; the design and pride of craftsmanship is evident in every space and detail. Throughout, there are many elements by the Tiffany Studios, including the stunning chandelier in the rotunda by Louis Comfort Tiffany!

I was told a story by a friend who used to work at the Capitol – one morning as people were arriving for the work day, they found the chandelier still swaying from some late night activities; one can only imagine. This series of photographs pays tribute to the beauty of the architecture and all it represents in our society. Like the chandelier set in motion sometime in the wee hours the night before, it swung, swayed, circled, drew an elliptical arc in the space and eventually returned to its centered place, glowing brightly, where it continues to provide light, beauty, and inspiration. 


Additionally, The Secretary of State webpage provides a history of the The Legislative Building, with architectural elevations, plans, and documentation during construction: Legislative Building

Additional images from various rallies at The Capitol and other events can be found here: Rally Album

Posted by Thomas Alix Johnston in Blog, 3 comments
Press Conference at the State Capitol

Press Conference at the State Capitol

Governor Jay Inslee, legislators, and civic leaders held a press conference in support of women’s rights at the Washington State Capitol.

Additional images included from the 2021 Rally for Reproductive Rights. Click on the image to see it large.


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This Is What Democracy Looks Like – National Rally For Reproductive Rights

This Is What Democracy Looks Like – National Rally For Reproductive Rights

Women’s March National Rally – Reproductive Rights.

Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Tacoma, Seattle, joined hundreds of cities across the U.S to rally with tens of thousands of people for support of Reproductive Rights – here we gathered at the State Capitol on October 2, 2021.

It was exciting to see people converging, carrying signs, gathering in groups as we approached the capitol. The crowd grew denser the closer we got. The rally began with a march from the Capitol Campus into town, returning to the Capitol where people lined the steps of the legislative building and the organizers set up the P.A. system. Many previous rallies that we attended featured well known speakers; in contrast, the speakers at this rally were often first-time public speakers, some were attending their first rally – they ranged in age from 15-75, they shared their personal histories and reasons for joining together to support reproductive rights.

Older participants know how hard it has been to change the anti-choice culture, how the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision meant that – finally – women could have access to safe and legal abortions. Their children and grandchildren join in the current fight, because, sadly, reproductive rights are again being challenged, and the hardships caused by limiting abortion access continue to disproportionately impact the BIPOC communities.

I was already an adult in 1973 and remember well the horror stories of what it was like before that historic date. When I was growing up there was a “home for un-wed mothers” in our neighborhood; it was shrouded in mystery. I remember the stigma and the danger for women who had no choices for safely, legally, terminating a pregnancy.

When I saw the young girls, marching with their mothers and big sisters, as one sign said, I’m Marching for My Future – I was proud to be standing and marching with them, marching to assure we won’t go back, back to barbaric times; and as a man, I march against toxic masculinity and an outdated patriarchy.


On a related note, I want to mention a new book that has just been released. This project by photographer Roslyn Banish, Focus on Abortion, is a continuation of her ongoing exploration of social dynamics through photography and text that began with her 1976 publication of City Families: Chicago and London.


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…In addition to leafing through sequences of images, and our front row seats, media immersion, and books, we did venture outdoors from time to time.

During the tumultuous times of recent years, we continued our efforts at participating in local and national protests. I contributed my efforts to photographically document numerous events sponsored by Indivisible, League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, Women’s March, for issues ranging from voting rights, saving our democracy, March for Our Lives, Moms for Portland, and to a rally honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Following the events of January 6, 2021 it has become even more apparent how important it is for all of us to do what we can, to participate in, and do our part to contribute to our culture and society.

Many of the events I attended were masked and socially distanced, held on a heavily trafficked street with most drivers showing their approval; other rallies were at our state capitol with notable speakers. At these rallies I have been impressed with the dedication of friends, neighbors, youth, and senior citizens, all coming together to standup for Democracy, to demonstrate that we care. We care about one another, our communities, our rich, multi-faceted, diverse culture. Click this link to my Flickr account to view many of these photographs.

Our capitol campus, as traditional as it is, is a place of beauty, symbolizing all we hold dear with the expectation that it is and will be there for each of us. This campus, where people with differing ideas come to debate and form laws that govern our society, is a place to behold in all its traditions, beauty, and our expectations of Democracy.

Posted by Thomas Alix Johnston in Blog, 0 comments