ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA – The Minnesota Historical Society executive council voted unanimously on Thursday to keep six paintings of Civil War battles in the Minnesota State Capitol.
Stephen Elliott, director and CEO of the Historical Society told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the paintings are “part of the vision for the Capitol as it was when it opened in 1905. We did not see a compelling reason to move away from the historical integrity of having those paintings.”
Before the Capitol’s $310 million renovation project is to be unveiled in early 2017, Governor Mark Dayton wanted the paintings removed, despite the fact that they have adorned the walls of the governor’s offices for more than 100 years. Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) wrote a letter in support of keeping the Civil War paintings in the Capitol, and then drama ensued. Dayton accused Rep. Dean of playing politics by wanting the art to remain at the Capitol, resulting in the governor walking out of a state Capitol Preservation Committee meeting.
Dayton wrote a letter in October to the Historical Society’s executive council stating that art in the prominent gubernatorial suite “should better represent the full complexion of our state and a more varied perspective on history, geography and culture.” Dayton encouraged the Historical Society to remove the six paintings depicting the Civil War out of the gubernatorial suites to somewhere else in the Capitol.
The historical paintings show Minnesota soldiers at the Siege of Vicksburg, The Battle of Gettysburg, The Battle of Nashville, the Battle of Missionary Ridge, the Battle of Corinth and the capture of Little Rock.
Dayton said in a statement following the Minnesota Historical Society vote on Thursday, “It’s their decision to make, and I accept their decision.” Dayton has spent years arguing for the removal of the Civil War paintings from the Governor’s Reception room.
The Capitol is scheduled to reopen to the public around January 3, 2017. The Civil War paintings will remain in the Governor’s Reception Room and Anteroom when the Capitol opens.
However, two other historical paintings showing interactions between American Indians and white settlers will be removed from the Governor’s Reception Room. “Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” and “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” have been criticized by American Indians as insulting, according to the Pioneer Press and will be moved to elsewhere in the Capitol. The decision to remove these historical paintings was made in October by the Historical Society following years of public discussion to move them.