Dayton questions Capitol Civil War artwork

Gov. Mark Dayton talks to reporters near “The Battle of Nashville” by Howard Pyle. Tim Pugmire/MPR News
  1. Listen Dayton questions Capitol Civil War artwork

Some of Minnesota’s elected officials are wondering if it’s time to declare the Civil War over, at least when it comes to some of the artwork adorning the walls of the Minnesota Capitol.

During a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, which is overseeing a top-to-bottom restoration of the historic building, Gov. Mark Dayton and state Rep. Dianne Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, wondered if any changes to the public art might be in order

“We have enough battles in here that I think some rooms should not have as many victims visually portrayed,” Loeffler said.

Dayton noted that five large paintings inside the governor’s office depict Civil War battles, and aside from the historical significance, he wondered how the images represent the full complexion of the state.

“I’m not an art historian, and I’m not even an art expert,” Dayton said. “I wanted to raise the question.”

“The Battle of Nashville” by Howard Pyle hangs in the governor’s reception room at the Minnesota state Capitol. Minnesota Historical Society

Civil War memories were still fresh in many Minnesotans’ minds when the State Capitol opened in 1905.

State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said the Capitol was built as a monument to Civil War veterans.

“Those who built this Capitol either had been involved in the Civil War themselves or had very near relatives who were,” Urdahl said. “Remembering the Civil War is reflected in the artwork of this building, and I think that’s important.”

Urdahl said the Civil War paintings should be restored, not replaced. He said the renovation of the building will open some areas where other types of artwork could be added.

“The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, November 25th 1863” by Douglas Volk hangs in the governor’s reception room at the Minnesota Capitol. Minnesota Historical Society

Dayton also questioned the tradition of hanging portraits of former governors lining the walls inside the Capitol. So far, all the state’s governors have been white males. Dayton said he doesn’t see the relevance of the portraits.

“To me, this space should be about Minnesota and all of its elements and its increasing diversity,” he said.

Dayton suggested the portraits could be consolidated into one lower-level area. He said another option would be to display only every 10th governor to provide a glimpse of evolving fashions.

State historians will have the final say on Capitol artwork, and changes appear unlikely. Brian Pease, historic site manager for the Minnesota Historical Society said much of the art in question has been in place since the Capitol opened.

“All of the murals you’ll see within the public space, they’re actually canvases attatched to the walls,” Pease said. “So, that’s all part of the original Cass Gilbert plan.”

Pease said the tradition of hanging portraits of former governors along hallways didn’t begin until 1944. He said the current configuration the portraits will change after the building renovation is completed.

  • John O.

    Some things are not meant to be messed with. This is one of them. The Minnesota State Capitol is one of the most beautiful state capitol buildings anywhere in the U.S. and the fact that it is a Cass Gilbert design makes it even more imperative that the original building be preserved as much as possible.

    • Stina

      The art work is not part of the building and it’s anachronistic. Certainly many more remarkable things have happened in Minnesota since the 1860’s.

      • Stuart Andreassen

        Did you not read the article? It says some of them are not framed art they are attached to the walls. I do agree they need some currant stuff as well.

  • Stuart Andreassen

    Maybe they need a Civil War Room to acknowledge that important part of the Capital. I agree they need some art that represents the last 100 years as well. I like the Gov’s idea about putting the former Gov’s in the hallway in the basement, if its tight down there the staff can place his picture and Venturas pic in the Furnace! LOL

  • Alex D Ball

    Very few things are more “remarkable” in our state or national history than the Civil War. In many ways, according to MANY scholars, it is the event which defined us as a country and determined what this nation would stand for, and who would be included (of course, the work started then is not yet finished). Taking these paintings down would detract from their importance and rob our children’s children of their heritage. As for the portraits, they may be of old white men, but that is how things were for most of the state’s history. If you want to change that, don’t try to revise history, instead, look to change the present. Think how powerful it will be when our children walk the hallway and begin finding portraits of the first female governor or the first governor who is not of European ancestry…think of the conversations that will spark.. Instead of trying to erase history, we should learn from it (both the good and the bad) and work to change the future.