Civil War paintings have sparked a battle over State Capitol art

Tempers are flaring over whether paintings of four Civil War scenes should be moved to a less prominent spot in the Capitol.

The Civil War may have ended more than a century ago but its battles live on – on canvas and in state government meeting rooms.

Tuesday saw Gov. Mark Dayton storm out of a committee meeting right after it started, KARE 11 reports, because he's mad about how his colleagues are handling a decision over whether to rearrange some of the State Capitol's artwork.

What's the argument about?

Minnesota is almost ready to reopen its Capitol building after years of renovation. Dayton thinks this would be a good time to make some changes in the room that's the prime place to show off the Capitol's art.

It's called the Governor's Reception Room and – as you might guess – it's right outside Dayton's office. It's the place where visiting VIPs get greeted, where ceremonies to sign important agreements are held, and (if it's not being used) it's the room where all the touring schoolkids get a sense for what a fancy building the Capitol is.

Since 1906 the walls of the room have included four big paintings of Minnesota troops in the Civil War. (One is at the top, scroll down to see the other three.)

Dayton thinks that might be too much Civil War for the room and, as the Pioneer Press reports, he suggested to the Minnesota Historical Society that the art there "should better represent the full complexion of our state."

But there's pushback against the idea of moving the Civil War paintings somewhere else.

The sons of Civil War veterans built our Capitol. The bloodstains of history can't be washed away by removing a picture.

The group of four Civil War paintings was commissioned by the Capitol's architect, Cass Gilbert, and they were installed together in the Governor's Reception Room the year after the Capitol opened. The Historical Society, which takes care of the state-owned building, doesn't want to split them up.

And the idea of moving the paintings somewhere else does not sit well with those who think they belong in the Reception Room.

The State Capitol opened at a time (1905) when many of Minnesota's elder statesmen were Civil War veterans. “The Capitol was built in the memory of Civil War veterans,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, told the Pioneer Press.

After the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board recommended this month that the paintings be moved, Dean sent a letter to fellow Republicans rallying opposition to the change. That's what prompted Dayton's anger and walkout at Tuesday's State Capitol Preservation Commission meeting.

Dean's not alone, though. Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, told the Associated Press: “The sons of Civil War veterans built our Capitol. The bloodstains of history can’t be washed away by removing a picture.”

The Historical Society's executive council is scheduled to make a decision in early December, although Urdahl told KWLM Radio the Legislature may consider a bill putting Capitol art decisions in the hands of lawmakers.

Learn more about these paintings and other artworks in the Minnesota State Capitol here.

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