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.

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

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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.

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"The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, November 25th 1863" by Douglas Volk. 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 10


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.