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Civil War art fuels drama in Minnesota capitol restoration

Posted on Friday, January 6, 2017 at 12:20 pm

In this March 6, 2014 file photo, Howard Pyle’s 1906 painting, “The Battle of Nashville,” depicting the Civil War battle, hangs in the governor’s reception room at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. A commis-sion overseeing restoration of the Capitol is torn over whether to bring back “The Battle of Nashville” and other Civil War paintings that were previously displayed there.

In this March 6, 2014 file photo, Howard Pyle’s 1906 painting, “The Battle of Nashville,” depicting the Civil War battle, hangs in the governor’s reception room at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. A commis-sion overseeing restoration of the Capitol is torn over whether to bring back “The Battle of Nashville” and
other Civil War paintings that were previously displayed there.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With a dozen veterans sporting military patches — plus two men in Civil War-era garb and an Abraham Lincoln lookalike — in attendance, a key panel overseeing Minnesota’s Capitol restoration moved Tuesday to keep several Civil War paintings displayed prominently inside the building when it reopens early next year.

The Capitol Preservation Commission’s vote won’t be the final say on the six Civil War paintings in the governor’s reception room, a major gathering area in the Capitol. That authority rests with the Minnesota Historical Society, which will handle the issue early next month.

Questions about what artwork will return to the Capitol halls have infused the four-year, $300 million renovation project with drama. Earlier this year, two paintings deemed to be offensive for their depiction of Native Americans were slated to be removed from the governor’s reception room after months of contentious debate.

Gov. Mark Dayton had pushed for more change inside his reception room, arguing that the civil war paintings — including “The Battle of Gettysburg,” ‘’The Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge,” ‘’The Battle of Nashville” and “The Fourth Minnesota Regiment Entering Vicksburg” and more — don’t adequately represent the state’s entire, 150 year-plus history. But Dayton didn’t participate in Tuesday’s vote.

He left abruptly after the meeting began, after angrily accusing a Republican who tried to build support for retaining the war paintings of “hijacking” the discussion for political gain. Speaking after that meeting, Dayton said he stood by his comments but insisted he wasn’t pushing for the paintings’ outright removal. He said he wouldn’t attempt to sway the Minnesota Historical Society’s final decision.

“I think this is totally overblown,” he said.

That decision is one of the final pieces in the Capitol’s restoration, which began in the fall of 2013. Though lawmakers will return to the Capitol in January after being forced out for the 2016 session, light construction will continue through the summer.

Veterans groups and lawmakers balked at the possibility that Civil War art would be removed, arguing their prominent display is essential to recognize Minnesota’s role in the Civil War and ending slavery as well as the Minnesota soldiers who died.

“The sons of Civil War veterans built our Capitol,” said Rep. Dean Urdah, R-Grove City. “The bloodstains of history can’t be washed away by removing a picture.”

-By Kyle Potter


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