Ruth Bender's Montgomery County and Maryland seashore landscapes have reached the top. The top of Capitol Hill, that is. Congressmen, senators, staffers and wandering tourists all now have a chance to see her work as they bustle through the Cannon House Office Building (New Jersey and Independence avenues SE). Bender -- whose paintings, mounted on easels around the rotunda's perimeter, will be on display through Feb. 8 -- first put brush to canvas only 22 months ago.

"Both my daughter and I agreed that I was hopeless as an artist," she says modestly. But clearly not that hopeless -- 15 months after she began painting, Congressman Michael Barnes (D-Md.) invited her to exhibit 18 of her artworks in the Cannon building.

Public display areas in the Capitol and in congressional office buildings come under the purview of the architect of the Capitol. Artists may petition their representatives to display their work in areas such as the Cannon building rotunda. They must submit sample slides or photographs of their paintings to their representative, who then submits the samples to the architect of the Capitol. The architect's office, in consultation with the House Speaker's office, decides what will be given exhibition space -- after screening out work that is "gruesome, prurient, or deals with contemporary political controversy." Interested artists should contact their representatives by calling the Capitol switchboard at 224-3121.