Public Art Tour: Capital Stars

The lives of Benjamin Banneker and Phillis Wheatley (Peters), two understated contributors to the foundations of our Nation’s Capital, are the inspiration for "Capital Stars." Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806) was a self-taught mathematician, astronomer, poet, and engineer. He built the first clock in America and wrote several almanacs. After George Washington fired Pierre L'Enfant, Banneker was asked to assist Andrew Ellicott in surveying DC. Ultimately, Banneker's extensive knowledge of astronomy served the interests of the city's builders to adorn the District with heavenly references.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the first African American woman and second African American writer published in America. Wheatley is renowned for writing "His Excellency General Washington," making the anthropomorphic term "Columbia" famous. Wheatley's use of this term would inspire "Hail, Columbia," the placeholder for America's national anthem before "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written. In so many ways, Wheatley is responsible for naming The District of Columbia.

Gordon Davis, II's mural consists of portraits of Banneker and Wheatley on the backdrop of two winding red bars bedecked with stars. Amongst these stars are some constellations (Leo, Virgo, and Bootes) that most likely guided Banneker's survey of the District of Columbia.



9th and R Streets NW