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Capitol Art Controversy Continues

By Mary Lahammer

 Despite the completion of the Minnesota State Capitol's restoration, the debate over the art is far from over. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan — at the time, the highest ranking woman of Native descent in America — shared some concerns about the painting still hanging in the Minnesota Senate that depicts a trio of Native people in the center. It is officially entitled "Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi" and it falls under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Senate. Lt. Gov. Flanagan will chair the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board per statutory requirements.


Two murals that used to hang in the Governor's Reception Room have been relocated to the Cass Gilbert Library that serves as part of the official transition office for the new Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Flanagan. The paintings were deemed inaccurate and inappropriate by an art subcommittee, so they were removed and reinterpreted with more historical context and perspectives, including that of Flanagan, who wants the paintings covered during the transition. She says her daughter and Native leaders are coming into that space - and she doesn't want the pieces on display during those visits. The first depicts a topless woman in the painting "Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony," and the second is "The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux," both designed to hang in the governor's ornate public space. For decades, the image of the treaty hung above the location of the governors's press conference, giving it a "prominence of place" considered painful for many serving on the art subcommittee.


Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson worked with the committee to try to resolve the art controversy. "I love that building," he said and called it a dream come true to serve on the committee. Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University Anton Treuer says the Capitol "should reflect everybody's story and place in Minnesota." He found the process rushed and worried about "tokenism" of members. Treuer reminds us that there is "10,000 years of human history before the white folks showed up" that isn't represented in the state's most important building.

Mary Lahammer Read More
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