Panel wants controversial Minn. Capitol paintings moved

Two historic paintings should be moved from the governor's reception room to less prominent locations in the Minnesota Capitol under the recommendations of an advisory panel made up of historians, legislators and other government officials.

The art subcommittee of the state Capitol Preservation Commission released a final report Monday that calls for removing the paintings Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony and The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux from the governor’s reception room. The panel recommends relocating both elsewhere within the Capitol, but it does not suggest new locations. There are also no recommendations for replacement art.

Both paintings have been criticized for inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans. The subcommittee conferred with tribal leaders on the matter as part of its research and highlighted that input in its report.

“The leaders of Minnesota's American Indian tribal leadership delivered a strong and consistent message that while all paintings depicting American Indians in the Capitol were concerning, those in the Governor's Reception Room were particularly problematic,” the report states.

Members of the public also shared strong feelings about the art said Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, a co-chair of the subcommittee.

“We have people who believe it’s historically inaccurate in its portrayal, and some of it believes that it’s a complicated history that cannot be told in one picture,” she said during a subcommittee meeting Monday.

Specific complaints about Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony include its depiction of a “semi-nude” Native American woman and its “symbolic religious overtones.”

The concerns with The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux center on the event itself, which was the signing of a treaty that proved to be highly unfair to Native Americans.

There are also concerns about the painting’s prominent location.

“The painting is the backdrop for virtually every important gubernatorial bill signing, press conference, or guest appearance taking place in the Governor's Reception Room,” the report notes.

Another member of the subcommittee is against moving the paintings. Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said educational opportunities would be lost if the art is placed in less visible locations. He’s particularly concerned with moving The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.

“There are lessons to be learned from what happened when that treaty was made and the treatment of the Dakota people as a result of it,” he said. “So I think we need to bring that forward, and people need to know more about what happened. I think that can be enhanced by leaving the painting where it is with better interpretation.”

During its research, the panel also discussed the Civil War art and portraits of past governors that are found throughout the Capitol. It concluded the Civil War art should remain. It said the tradition of governors’ portraits should continue but displayed in ways “that enables contextualizing them and providing meaningful interpretation.”

Gov. Mark Dayton, who chairs the Capitol preservation commission, said he still isn’t a fan of the Civil War art or the governors’ portraits.

“There’s just so much more to Minnesota than the Civil War and the governors. It wouldn’t be on my list of priorities to include in the Capitol." he said, adding. "Again, that’s a bigger decision than my preference.”

The full commission accepted the art report but did not take further action. Members spent more time debating which government entity has the final authority to make Capitol art decisions than they did on the actual recommendations in the report.

Most members are convinced the Minnesota Historical Society will have the final say on the matter.

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