Capitol Rioters Damage Priceless Art

Shattered frames. Torn scrolls. A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on January 6, resulting in five deaths and damages to historical art and architecture.

Upon investigation, curators discovered damage to numerous works, including a bust of President Zachary Taylor, which was stained with blood; numerous stolen photographs, including a missing portrait of the Dalai Lama; an empty frame found on the floor, the picture missing; and a ripped tapestry with Chinese characters. “They had no respect for any of these things,” Dr. Barbara Wolanin, a former curator at the Capitol, said in a New York Times interview, “That’s what’s really scary.”

The riot also caused minor damage to the Capitol building itself, which was designed in the 18th century and completed in 1826. In addition to looting and ransacking offices, demonstrators reportedly sprayed tear gas and pepper spray in the building, leaving residue on the furniture. Graffiti was also found near the inaugural stand. According to the New York Times, “The Capitol building itself is a work of art.”

Even though the Capitol building suffered significant damage, curators found one silver lining: the historic paintings in the Capitol rotunda, including scenes from the American Revolution, were reportedly left unscathed. For example, the historic painting of the Declaration of Independence avoided major damages. The damages “could’ve been much worse,” said Dr. Wolanin, adding that the collection she had kept for 30 years “was at the mercy of a mob.”

“I have been re-evaluating the Library’s disaster plan this month,” said Ms. Joan Baldwin, interim director of the Edsel Ford Memorial Library and curator of special collections,, “In pre-Covid times, the school’s campus is fairly open. That means we live with a level of trust in our Security team, as well as insecurity because some of our art pieces are in vulnerable places.”

She added, “I’ve learned you can’t anticipate everything, but the more you’ve thought things through, and if you have a good team of people behind you, both on and off campus, including specialists and conservators, the more you believe you can probably figure it out.”

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.