Should we keep or change Minnesota’s history at the Capitol?

By Joyce Peppin
Dist. 34A

In Saint Paul, state leaders are busy preparing for the 2017 legislative session. With a $1.4 billion surplus, our focus will be on a number of important issues including providing meaningful tax relief for families and small businesses, addressing our state’s health care cost crisis and investing in our shared priorities like transportation infrastructure and education.
Additionally, next year the State Capitol Building will once again be fully open to the public. Restoration of the building has been an extended three-year process, and I am pleased that the state made this long-term investment in restoring the Capitol.
Restoration of the Capitol not only included critical infrastructure fixes and the creation of more public meeting spaces, but also the restoration of important historical artworks that hang throughout the building. Of course, as you may have read in the news, some of that artwork has become controversial.
The most recent dustup came at the last Capitol Preservation Commission meeting in late November. The Commission, chaired by Governor Dayton and made up of state leaders, is in charge of making recommendations to the Minnesota Historical Society regarding restoration work.
During the meeting, Governor Dayton, who has suggested that he did not want to see eight paintings, including six Civil War battle depictions returned to the Governor’s Reception Room, stormed out of the room over disagreements about the artwork. Cass Gilbert, our Capitol’s architect, intended them for the space, as the building was built as a monument to Civil War veterans.
The governor has stated that these paintings are not welcoming enough and wants paintings more representative of our state’s history to hang in the Reception Room. I, along with many of my legislative colleagues, respectfully disagree.
It is important to note that our Capitol was originally built as a monument to Minnesota Civil War veterans who helped turn the tide of the war in important battles like Gettysburg. Returning these paintings to the Reception Room keeps the building true to Gilbert’s goal of reminding us of the sacrifices Minnesotans have made in order to protect our freedoms and preserve our nation’s unity.
Others suggest that the Civil War, while an important era in our state’s history, is not the only era deserving of recognition. Minnesota history is filled with meaningful moments in time, from its early settlement to the present day.
In the end, the Capitol Preservation Commission voted to strongly suggest to the Minnesota Historical Society that all six Civil War paintings are returned to the governor’s office public area. The Society has final say on the matter.
What do you think about returning these paintings to the Capitol? Should the Historical Society replace the Civil War paintings with work from other artists? Should there be a broader representation of artwork in the Capitol? The building belongs to you, please share your thoughts.
I also urge you to reach out with your input and ideas about the upcoming legislative session.

Representative Peppin encourages constituents to contact her with questions or opinions on any state legislative issue. She may be reached at [email protected] or 651.296.7806. Mail should be sent to Rep. Joyce Peppin, 281 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.