Legislators, including newly elected members are preparing for the convening of Minnesota’s 90th Legislature on Jan. 3. Retiring members are moving and new members are making plans to move in. My St. Paul office remains unchanged, Room 423 on the fourth floor of the State Office Building.
Restoration of the state Capitol building is almost complete. There is disagreement over the fate of several paintings in the vicinity of the governor’s office. The paintings have been in place for more than a century.
The paintings include Father Hennepin blessing the land that would eventually become Minneapolis, and the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. The Capitol Architectural and Planning Board has recommended that they be returned to the Minnesota Historical Society. Four Civil War battle paintings also are in question.
The paintings depict Minnesota’s Civil War veterans in major battles of that epic struggle. The works of art include the Battle of Gettysburg, the Fourth Minnesota Regiment Entering Vicksburg, the Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge and the Battle of Nashville. They are features architect Cass Gilbert included when he designed our Capitol as a monument to the Civil War.
Gov. Mark Dayton has strong feelings about what should go. He recently stormed out of a meeting of the Capitol Architectural and Planning Board over the disagreement. The good news is the final decision rests with the Minnesota Historical Society.
I have a word of caution for all involved. Those currently occupying the Capital building, myself included, are only temporary occupants of the people’s house. We should not be so quick to impose our personal views on what elements of Minnesota’s history are appropriate for the public to view.
If we are confident in where we are today, we also must acknowledge how we got here.
Removing paintings from the public view will not change Minnesota’s history with respect to the consequences to Native American’s as a result of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux or the establishment of European immigrant settlements in Minnesota. Shielding the public from the awfulness of war will not make us less likely to again engage in that misery.
Please be safe, and let’s hope we get some good ice soon so we can start ice fishing!