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Capitol panel: Let’s move these paintings of tribes somewhere less conspicuous

A couple of paintings that have raised the ire of Minnesota’s Dakota and Ojibwe bands are apparently not leaving the State Capitol –  but they may be hanging out in a less-traveled location by the time the building reopens.

The two paintings have spent a century in the Governor’s Reception Room, which is some prime real estate within the Capitol.  A report delivered to the Minnesota State Capitol Preservation Commission Monday recommends the artworks be moved somewhere else in the Capitol, where there’s room to explain the context of the early 20th Century paintings.

The Subcommittee on Art notes in its report that the paintings – “Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” and “Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” –  are now located where every important bill signing, press conference, and guest appearance takes place.

They made no recommendation on where the paintings should be displayed and said  they did not have time to agree on  what should take their place outside the governor’s office.

scan from 4x5 file transparency

“Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” (Photo: Minnesota Historical Society)

What’s the objection to the paintings?

Members of the subcommittee on art held 11 public input hearings and met with the leaders of nine of Minnesota’s American Indian tribes.

They say there was a consensus that the painting featuring Father Hennepin shows an inaccurate portrayal of his relationship with the native people he encountered at what is now downtown Minneapolis.

As for the painting of the treaty signing, the government’s refusal to keep its promises in that treaty led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, critics say.

The president of one tribal council in a Star Tribune commentary last spring objected to memorializing “…one of the most deceitful and destructive arrangements that ultimately forced the Dakota people into starvation and war.”

One state Senator on the art subcommittee, Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, told MPR News he wanted to keep the painting in its prominent location as a reminder of the history. “There are lessons to be learned from what happened when that treaty was made and the treatment of the Dakota people as a result of it,” he told MPR.

State Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, tells WCCO a different location will allow more space to explain the history behind the paintings and what they depict.

The station notes that in addition to refurbishing the original art in the Capitol, the renovation is also creating space to install new art, including the first new paintings in the building (other than governor’s portraits) since 1912.

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