Minnesota Historical Society Announces Final Decisions for Capitol Art

For immediate release

Release dated: 
December 8, 2016
Media contacts: 

Lauren Peck, 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org
Lory Sutton, 651-259-3140, lory.sutton@mnhs.org

Minnesota Historical Society Announces Final Decisions for Capitol Art

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Executive Council (governing board) adopted the recommendations of its Ad Hoc Committee today about artwork displayed at the Minnesota State Capitol.

The decisions were made after careful consideration of public input to the Capitol Preservation Commission (CPC) Art Subcommittee, additional public feedback received by MNHS, and input from the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB), the full CPC, and the governor; a thorough analysis of historic preservation standards and specific consideration of the Capitol being listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972; and the fact that the Capitol is a public building in active use and also a historic site.

MNHS and the CAAPB have statutory authority to decide what and where art is displayed in the building, and MNHS determines the final disposition of any works of art removed from the Capitol. The CPC has a consulting and advisory role.

“As the ‘People’s House’ our beloved Capitol is an active public building and compelling icon,” said Stephen Elliott, MNHS director and CEO.  “We respect its historical significance and integrity, and also recognize that what is displayed there today and tomorrow reflects who we are as Minnesotans.  MNHS places a high value on ensuring that every Minnesotan visiting the Capitol, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or position in life, should feel welcome and respected in its spaces and, ideally, represented in its art.”

The MNHS Executive Council has decided:

  • Rather than exhibit all 38 of the governors’ portraits at one time, portraits will be grouped with added interpretation and rotated on exhibit to provide visitors with more meaningful historic interpretation.
  • The six Civil War paintings in the Governor's Reception Room and Anteroom will be retained in place. They are currently undergoing conservation off-site and will return in early 2017. The art was part of architect Cass Gilbert’s original design for the Capitol and according to the National Register of Historic Places is considered a “character-defining” feature.
    • “The Battle of Nashville” by Howard Pyle
    • “The Fourth Minnesota Entering Vicksburg” by Francis D. Millet
    • “The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge” by Douglas Volk
    • “The Battle of Gettysburg” by Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum
    • “The Third Minnesota Entering Little Rock” by Stanley M. Arthurs
    • “The Fifth Minnesota at Corinth” by Edwin Blashfield
  • “Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony” and “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” paintings in the Governor's Reception Room will be relocated and interpreted more robustly elsewhere in the Capitol to share more fully the history of this time period, the significance and historical context of the paintings and the perspectives of American Indians and others.
  • The “Attack on New Ulm” and “Eighth Minnesota at the Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty” paintings will be removed from exhibition at the Capitol. Discussions will continue about how best to interpret American Indian history within the Capitol, including interactions with other cultures and the contributions of American Indians today. Neither painting is original to the Capitol design and both are painful reminders of our shared history. The “Attack on New Ulm” portrays one incident during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which not all Dakota supported. This painting should not be the primary portrayal of American Indians who have lived in Minnesota for more than 10,000 years. The “Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty” occurred in North Dakota and is more appropriately exhibited elsewhere.

Interpretive plans are being developed, and every effort will be made to reinstall artwork in a timely fashion. However, not all of the artwork will be in place when the Capitol opens on Jan. 3, 2017. The governors’ portraits and Civil War paintings will be installed in early 2017.  The “Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” and “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” paintings will be installed in time for the Capitol’s grand opening Aug. 11-13, 2017.

Over the past three and a half years, the state of Minnesota has undertaken a $310 million restoration project to preserve the Minnesota State Capitol, the first comprehensive restoration since it was built in 1905. Since a major part of the historic significance of the Capitol is its artwork, most of the paintings and murals have been cleaned and repaired for the learning and enjoyment of visitors for the next 100 years. The Capitol will reopen on Jan. 3, 2017 for the legislative session and public tours.  A grand opening celebration for the public is being planned for Aug. 11-13, 2017.

About the Minnesota Historical Society
The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history. Visit us at www.mnhs.org.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.