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Dayton Questions Civil War Murals In His Office

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton: art critic?

On Tuesday, Dayton questioned whether violent war paintings and other artwork in the Capitol accurately represent Minnesota’s history, and should be changed.

The artwork is part of a three-year project in which many of the paintings and murals will be taken down and cleaned.

The Governor’s office itself is home to the famous paintings, which Dayton said may have too much of a Civil War “bias.”

“Five of the seven paintings are of the Civil War, and war,” Dayton said, gesturing around his ornate reception room.

The world-renowned paintings depict the Battles of Gettysburg, Nashville, the fall of Vicksburg, and Minnesota troops entering Little Rock.

Dayton said visitors to the Minnesota Capitol should be exposed to much more of state’s history than paintings about war.

“Should that dictate how we present this Capitol to current Minnesotans, future Minnesotans, and visitors for the next 50 to 100 years?” He asked. “I think those are questions we should be answering.”

The State Capitol, which was completed in 1905, was planned and built just 40 to 50 years after the Civil War by state leaders, who were Civil War veterans.

Violent or not, one state Representative, who’s a Civil War historian, says the Capitol commemorates the momentous events.

“The building was constructed as a monument to the Great War,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, (R) Grove City, who has written several Minnesota history books.

“The violence is part of our history,” he said. “We remember what happened and part of remembering is hopefully to make sure that these things never happen again.”

Brian Pease, the Capitol site manager for the Minnesota Historical Society, said the murals would be difficult to relocate, as they were painted directly onto the walls, and he questioned whether the Historical Society would support such a move.

Much of the art on display in the building dates to 1906, Pease said, and was chosen by architect Cass Gilbert, who also designed the U.S. Capitol.

The Governor is also questioning the historical accuracy of depictions of Minnesota’s Native Americans, and skeptical about whether the portraits of Governors should be displayed in the Capitol hallways.

“I don’t think it should be the only thing,” Dayton said. “That’s my opinion. And that’s just my opinion.”

Despite the Governor’s comments, he does not decide what paintings hang in the Governor’s office and the Capitol. The State Historical Society has final say on all the artwork — by law.

Members of the Preservation Commission said they hoped to start a public discussion about what kind of art would be displayed in the Capitol once it’s remade. The $270 million renovation is already underway, and some building occupants have already been displaced. The governor’s staff is scheduled to move out in June, to space in the nearby Veterans Services Building, and won’t return to the Capitol until December 2016 at the earliest.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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