ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A public fight over art work at the newly-renovated State Capitol erupted into anger on Tuesday.
Governor Mark Dayton stormed out of a meeting that was considering his proposal to permanently remove those paintings from his office when the Capitol re-opens in January. This beautiful State Capitol is nearing the end of a $350 million top-to-bottom renovation.
But on Tuesday, it was a political war over what’s inside. Civil War paintings that Gov. Dayton says represent only a small part of the state’s history.
The outside now completed, inside still in flux. The six Civil War paintings depict battle scenes, including legendary Minnesota regiments at Gettysburg and Nashville.
They’ve been part of the Governor’s Office since the Capitol opened in 1905. But Gov. Dayton has suggested they be removed because he says the paintings don’t “represent the full complexion” of the state.
At a Capitol preservation meeting packed with military veterans and Civil War re-enactors who oppose removing the paintings, Gov. Dayton unexpectedly erupted in anger at Republicans.
“You hijacked the operation of this commission for your own political purposes, for your own 2018 campaign purposes, and I’m not going to be a part of it,” Dayton said.
Gov. Dayton abruptly stormed out of the meeting, singling out Republican State Representative Matt Dean for special score.
“The building itself was built as a memorial to Civil War veterans,” Dean said.
Dean is leading the fight against any effort to permanently remove the paintings from the Governor’s Office.
“It’s not our office building. It belongs to the people of the State of Minnesota, not just today, but 100 years ago but 100 years from now,” Dean said.
A couple of hours after his dramatic exit, Gov. Dayton said he’s not against Civil War paintings, but believes artwork in the building should reflect the rest of Minnesota.
“Is that broadly representative of 150 years of Minnesota history? Clearly it’s not,” Dayton said.
The Capitol Preservation Committee had already decided to remove two Native American paintings from the Governor’s office: The Signing of the Treaty at Traverse Des Sioux, and Father Hennepin at St. Anthony Falls won’t return because they were historically inaccurate portrayals of Minnesota native tribes.
So what will happen to the paintings? The Commission voted to keep the paintings in the Governor’s Office, but the final decision is up to the Minnesota Historical Society, which recommended removing them, and possibly creating a special public space in the Capitol to honor Civil War veterans.
So it’s not over yet.