Historical Society Capitol Art Tour a Good Start, Concerns Remain

Joe Horse Capture led a discussion on Capitol Art in the Cass Gilbert Library, on the Capitol’s third floor.

I attended the second of two Capitol Art Tours launched by the Minnesota Historical Society Friday. It was led by Joe Horse Capture, the Society’s Director of Native American Initiatives. A couple of dozen people attended. I learned some new things. I appreciated the dialogue Horsecapture led. I also left with some concerns about the tour — including whether it would continue.

The hour-long discussion focused on two controversial paintings that once hung in the Governor’s Conference Room, one showing Father Hennepin “discovering” the Falls at St. Anthony, the other a painting of the signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851.

I appreciated Horse Capture’s effort to engage people in a conversation around these paintings and whether the paintings should remain in the Capitol. These paintings are offensive to many, notably Dakota people who are inaccurately and offensively portrayed. When these paintings hung in the Governor’s Conference Room, those who found them offensive had no choice but to look at them if they were doing business in the room. Moving the paintings to a low-traffic area allows people to engage them — or not — as they choose.

Senate mural: “The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi.”

One problem with the “tour” was that it left out the controversial art that remains in place in the Capitol. For instance, it did not include images or discussion of the Senate Chamber’s mural “The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi”. This painting shows the forced conversion of a Native man and young Native woman, who are surrounded by a priest with a cross, snarling dogs, and the angels of civilization and discovery. This is an affront to our deeply held belief in Freedom of Religion.

Nor did the tour include the House Chambers, which includes the inscription: “The Trail of the Pioneer Bore the Footprints of Liberty.” For Native people, they had a lot more freedom before the pioneers arrived.

Here are a few other learnings and concerns. Continue reading

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Native Youth Interrupt Governor’s Water Quality Town Hall; Dayton Promises Private Meeting, But Still Neutral on Line 3

Youth interrupted the Governor’s Town Hall Meeting on Water Quality to speak out against the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline, saying it was a threat to water quality. In the photo, Dayton responds. (The young girls in the front table were not part of the protest.)

Ten or so youth interrupted Governor Mark Dayton’s Water Quality Town Hall meeting in Minneapolis for about 10 minutes Wednesday night to bring attention to indigenous opposition to the proposed tar sands crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota. The pipeline — Enbridge Line 3 — threatens the state’s clean waters and wild rice areas and violates treaty rights that allow Anishinaabe to hunt, fish and gather on lands the pipeline would cross.

The youth who took the stage included some of the Native youth who are part of the Youth Climate Intervenors working to stop Line 3. The group was recognized by the Public Utilities Commission as an official intervenor because of the members’ youth — they would be living with the consequences of this pipeline for most of their lives. They will be allowed to provide testimony as the process moves into a more legal format. Continue reading

New Capitol Art Tour Focuses on Controversial Art; History Center to Feature Native Artists

A painting of Father Hennepin “Discovering” the Falls of St. Anthony now hangs in a 3rd floor space in the Capitol.

The long and contentious debate over art in the Minnesota State Capitol resulted in some victories. Offensive paintings have been relocated within the Capitol or removed altogether. In addition, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) has started a new tour that focuses on interpreting Capitol art in a new way, including the controversial pieces that remain.

The tour is called Making Meaning of State Capitol Art, and will be held Tuesday, Sept. 12 and Friday, Sept. 29 at the Minnesota State Capitol. Both tours run noon to 1 p.m. According to the announcement, you can: “Explore the varied meanings behind some of the art at the Minnesota State Capitol in a small group dialogue with Joe Horse Capture, director of American Indian Initiatives at MNHS. This is an opportunity to listen to different opinions and share your own story.”

As a reminder, two controversial paintings that hung in the Governor’s Reception Room — one showing Father Hennepin Discovering the Falls at St. Anthony and the other of the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, have been moved to a third floor space known as the Cass Gilbert Library. Two other paintings have been removed altogether: The Attack on New Ulm and the Battle of Ta Ha Kouty.

Senate mural: “The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi.”

The painting of the Battle of New Ulm will be on display at the James J. Hill House, part of the free exhibit, Attack on New Ulm: One Painting, Many Perspectives. Come and share your thoughts about its role in Minnesota history. The exhibit will be on view Sept. 16 – Jan. 14.

A particularly offensive mural remains in the Minnesota Senate Chambers. Called “The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the Mississippi” it is a tour de force of Manifest Destiny and flies in the face of our deeply held beliefs in freedom of religion. It remains a complete mystery why our state leaders allowed this painting to remain after the recent renovation. The message it sends is as troubling as the Confederate memorials now being removed in southern states.

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Minnesota Capitol Art Update: Unfinished Business For the Next Set of Leaders

This is where the painting of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux used to hang in the Minnesota Governor’s Reception Room.

Two offensive paintings that once hung in the Minnesota Governor’s Reception Room have been taken down, leaving bare walls.

The painting of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux used to hang over the fireplace. It was the prominent backdrop to any major media event held in this room.

This is where the painting of Father Hennepin “Discovering” the Falls of St. Anthony used to hang.

At the far end of the Reception Room hung a painting showing Father Hennepin “discovering” the Falls at St. Anthony. It, too, was taken down and moved.

The Art Subcommittee charged with making recommendations about Capitol art yielded to pressure to remove these two problematic paintings from such a prominent space. Sadly, it couldn’t bring itself to move them out of the Capitol altogether into a museum where they belong.

Photo of Cass Gilbert Library space (taken before the problematic paintings from the Governor’s Reception Room paintings were rehung there.)

Both of these works have been moved to a space called the “Cass Gilbert Library,” named for the Capitol’s architect. This is a low traffic area on the Capitol’s third floor, on the far end of the east wing.

The Art Subcommittee recommended keeping the other four large paintings in the Governor’s Reception Room in place; all four are Civil War battle scenes

The Battle of Nashville painting in the Governor’s Reception Room. The new art has to somehow complement this and other Civil War paintings.

involving Minnesota regiments. That decisoin puts the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) in something of an aesthetic  jam.

MHS has to find new art for those two blank walls. They have to be right size, and they have to fit artistically. Further — we hope — they represent something that happened in the state after the 19th Century.

It will be a challenge.

It appears that these spaces will remain empty for some time, according to an email statement from Jessica Kohen, public relations manager for the Minnesota Historical Society.

We have not made any decisions about new art for the Governor’s Reception Room. Our Executive Council (governing board) is working with MNHS staff to put together a plan for this work. This work will take some time.

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Growing Scrutiny of Public Art, Next Up: Edward Cornwallis

The sun is setting on the Edward Cornwallis statue.

Public art is getting long overdue scrutiny, from Confederate statues in Louisiana to historical paintings in the Minnesota State Capitol to the Scaffold sculpture controversy at the Walker Art Center. This is more than a few isolated incidents, it feels more like a movement.

This fact hit me square on while visiting Nova Scotia earlier this month. I wasn’t expecting any public art controversies, but there it was. I picked up a copy of the Globe and Mail and one of the first headlines I read said: Halifax mayor speaks out against protesters’ plan to remove Cornwallis statue. It was a familiar story:

Tensions over how Halifax honours its contentious founder are growing as a plan to topple the statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park circulates on social media.

A Facebook event called “Removing Cornwallis” invites people to a protest Saturday to “peacefully remove” the large bronze statue from atop a large stone pedestal.

This is not a far-away story. This is our story, too. It’s one more facet of the Doctrine of Discovery and the European mindset towards indigenous peoples that spans our continent.

Cornwallis is controversial for the same reason that Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first Governor, is controversial. Both men were agents of empire, forcing indigenous peoples from their lands. Both used brutal tactics. Cornwallis issued a proclamation promising a bounty for the scalp of every Mi’kmaq (also called Mi’kmaw, the First Nations people of Nova Scotia). Similarly, Ramsey put a bounty on Dakota scalps after the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.

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Reflections on “Scaffold”: Artistic Freedom, the Son of Sam, and Repentance

“Scaffold” sculpture was removed from the Walker Sculpture Garden.

The Walker Art Center made the right decision when it agreed to remove Scaffold from its new Sculpture Garden, yet for some thorny questions of artistic freedom remain.

We get stuck in this debate when we see the decision to remove Scaffold as a referendum on artistic freedom. That polarizes people. Yes, we deeply value artistic freedom, yet we hold other deep values, too, like fairness and inclusion. When values don’t line up on a particular decision, we have a difficult choice to make.

So here’s the question: In the case of Scaffold, how would those of us who agree with removing the sculpture describe our deeper values, those that in this case override our value for artistic freedom?

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Will Walker Embrace Institutional Changes in the Wake of “Scaffold” Controversy?

Olga Viso, Executive Director of the Walker Art Center at the Wednesday news conference.

The Walker Art Center will look for ways to bring more diversity and perspective to its board and staff following the recent controversy over the Scaffold Sculpture, said Olga Viso, Walker’s executive director.

She made her comments at a Wednesday news conference announcing an agreement to remove the sculpture, part of a mediation between Dakota elders, the Walker, and the sculpture’s artist, Sam Durant. In her formal remarks, Viso said:

“We pledge to host forums for continued listening and learning. We will reach out to Native communities including Upper Sioux, Lower Sioux, Shakopee and Prairie Island nations who have asked for dialogue and continued dialogue …

We will help bridge gaps of understanding among staff, among our board, among our audiences. We will examine our institutional structures and work to make structural change, which will take time.

Later in the Q&A, she was asked to elaborate on what institutional changes she envisioned to bring more voices to the table. She gave a brief answer: “So talking about representation on the board, more representation on the staff,” she said, and creating forums and other opportunities “to forge more deep connections for consultations so this doesn’t happen again.” Continue reading