If you’ve received a tour of the state Capitol in the past 20 years, there’s a good chance Daina Zemliauskas gave it to you.
It could have happened a decade into her job, as she pointed upward to show visitors the Capitol’s stately murals while throngs of protesters occupied the building during the 2011 Act 10 protests. And it almost could have happened on the second day of her job — Sept. 11, 2001 — though the early morning terrorist attack in New York City led to the cancellation of all tours and, in Zemliauskas’ recollection, “the building was pretty much cleared.”
In addition to sharing Wisconsin’s history, Zemliauskas, a longtime artist, is likely to tell visitors about the mosaics above them, the Capitol blueprints drawn by hand, the original furniture that remains in the building and the technological feat it was to build each Capitol wing in an average of a few years without the construction materials or machinery available today.
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Zemliauskas, who has lived in the same house in the Bay Creek area since 2000, estimates she has given over 6,000 tours, and that’s between her work painting digitally, her down time vegetable gardening and traveling once a year to Lithuania with her husband.
What made you want to become a Capitol tour guide and what has kept you interested in the job?
I hold a BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and have also been a professional actor. This combination is conducive to public speaking and having an appreciation for the most beautiful building in the state. For the past 20 years as a tour guide at the Capitol, I continue to love showing it to visitors. I’ve found that I learn and see new things every day. That keeps it interesting and exciting, even after all of these years.
What about the Capitol impresses you the most?
The building is a prime example of Beaux Arts Architecture, which combines Roman and Greek design elements with rich detail. This type of architecture is often found in Europe, but one does not expect to see such a grandiose structure in the heartland! George B. Post, the architect, was a genius in his design, choice of materials, artwork, and his incorporation of natural light — how they meld together to form this most impressive and classical environment, all drawn by hand, is fascinating to me.
What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve had with somebody who took one of your tours?
There have been so many throughout the years, it’s difficult to name just one. In general, I would say that my most memorable interactions remain with the children who arrive in the spring from all over the state for their fourth-grade field trip. The look on their faces as they enter the building is priceless, and when I tell them that this is their house, the excitement that they display just can’t be beat.
You’re also an artist. Has the Capitol in any way inspired or influenced your art? How?
I don’t know if my work has been influenced by the art in the Capitol, perhaps subconsciously, it has. The murals and mosaics have definitely inspired me — I am in awe of these artists whose work I admire. It’s akin to walking into an art museum every time I go to work.
How have you evolved as an artist over time, and what do you want readers to know about your art?
I’ve been an artist and actor for most of my life, so there’s a natural evolution that occurs with age. In the visual arts, I’ve worked in many mediums: sculpture, photography, oils, acrylics and watercolors, to name a few. Since COVID, and during quarantine when I was unable to work at my shared studio space Downtown, I began to explore digital painting, utilizing my photography and painting skills. My latest project is a print I created as a fundraiser to help the people of Ukraine.
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