Connecticut Capitol Art: The Disappearing Indian

We continue with our art tour of other state capitols to see what lessons Minnesota might learn as we reassess our own controversial capitol art.

Today we visit Connecticut, and we start our discussion with the Connecticut State Seal. Below three grape vines, the state motto is written on a blue ribbon: QuSeal-of-Connecticuti transtulit sustinet. It is a powerful statement of Manifest Destiny. The phrase is Latin for He Who Transplanted Sustains. There are two versions of the motto’s history, according to Wikipedia. Here is one, provided by the State Librarian in 1889, who linked it to a Psalm:

“The vines [on the State Seal] symbolize the Colony brought over and planted here in the wilderness. We read in the 80th Psalm: ‘Thou has brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it” – in Latin, ‘Vineam de Aegypto transtulisti, ejicisti gentes et plantasti eam’; and the motto expresses our belief that He who brought over the vine continues to take care of it – Qui transtulit sustinet“.

Connecticut was originally called the “River Colony.” The name Connecticut derives from an anglicized version of the Algonquin word “Quinnehtukqut” meaning “beside the long tidal river,” according to statesymbolsusa.org.

In our review of Connecticut capitol art, the name “Connecticut” is about the only remnant of any reference to Native peoples. For the first time in our capitol survey, there are no images–either positive or negative–acknowledging the presence of Native peoples (at least from the images we could find on line.) Perhaps this absence should come as no surprise. The Colony of Connecticut (one of the original 13) was organized on March 3, 1636 as a settlement for a Puritan congregation. The current state capitol was finished in 1878, more than 240 years after the colony was formed and long after Native peoples had been forced out or thoroughly subdued.

No different than western states, Connecticut had its Indian conflicts–notably the Pequot War (1634-1638). (This was a conflict between the Pequot tribe and an alliance of the English colonists and the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes that soundly defeated the Pequot.) But this was ancient history by the time Connecticut built its capitol. Even the artwork in Connecticut’s Old State House, which opened in 1796, seems devoid of images of Native cultures or conflicts.

If there is a conclusion to be drawn from this particular review, it is this: As we discuss what art is appropriate in Minnesota’s most important public spaces, the solution is not simply to eliminate this difficult part of our history from our art.

For those interested, the following are available on line:

Among the more interesting pieces is a large painting by Albert Herter in the Supreme Court Building called “An Allegory of Education” (the image is missing the bottom of the picture.) The website provides this description: “The central figure teaches the child beside her from the “book of knowledge” and is attended by guardian figures of “progress” and “wisdom.” The “light of education” is passed down into the darkness by youths holding torches. Below, figures representing “ignorance” and “superstition,” overcome by the light, are falling through the night sky.” We could not find a good on-line image of the full painting, particularly to see if the figures of ignorance and superstition are depicted as dark skinned or not.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s