Minnesota’s awful art problem

Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony - described by Scott Russell in The Circle: "The painting shows Father Hennepin at the falls, renaming it after his patron saint. The term “discovers” is wrong. Hennepin stands in a position of authority, towering over the people sitting below him, when in fact he was a Dakota prisoner at the time. At right, the painting shows a half-naked Dakota woman carrying a heavy pack. Her lack of covering is historically inaccurate and offensive, an apparent effort to show her as uncivilized."

Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony – described by Scott Russell in The Circle: “The painting shows Father Hennepin at the falls, renaming it after his patron saint. The term “discovers” is wrong. Hennepin stands in a position of authority, towering over the people sitting below him, when in fact he was a Dakota prisoner at the time. At right, the painting shows a half-naked Dakota woman carrying a heavy pack. Her lack of covering is historically inaccurate and offensive, an apparent effort to show her as uncivilized.”

The Minnesota Capitol features some truly awful art. Whatever the judgment from an aesthetic perspective, several paintings inside the building are awful because they are offensive, racist, and historically inaccurate. They show heroic white “discoverers,” backed by priests and angels, bringing Christianity and “civilization” to Indians in Minnesota.

Writing in The Circle, Scott Russell summarizes the current debate over paintings that date to the early 1900s:

“The capitol art debate is similar to the debate about flying the Confederate Flag over the South Carolina statehouse. Both involve a battle over symbols. In the Minnesota context, the questions are: Do these paintings and symbols reflect the best of our heritage and values? What do we do with art and symbols that are unwelcoming and hurtful?”

A Change.org petition asks for five steps:

  1. Remove offensive, traumatizing paintings from the capitol, including:The Discoverers and Civilizers Led to the Source of the MississippiFather Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony; The Signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux; and The Battle of Killdeer Mountain.
  2. Find a new home for the capitol art that is removed, where it can be remembered and interpreted.
  3. Better interpret the capitol’s remaining historic art, preferably with interactive touch screens.
  4. Provide more in-depth training for capitol tour guideson the art’s history and meaning.
  5. Add new capitol artthat reflects and honors Minnesota’s current ethnic and cultural diversity.

The Capitol renovation now underway offers a unique opportunity to act. The Art Subcommittee of the Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Project is considering the issue. The current Capitol artwork, notes MinnPost, represents the point of view of “the people who designed and built the Capitol, almost all of whom were male and white.” Those were the people represented, but they were not the only or the first Minnesotans. Their perspective is certainly not representative of Minnesota today. Anton Treuer, executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University and a member of the subcommittee, explained in MinnPost:

“Nobody sees the world as it is, we all see it as we are. From a Native perspective, there are 10,000 years of documented history in Minnesota before white guys showed up. The absence of real substantive acknowledgment of that is screaming out to me. It doesn’t happen very often that we have a chance to have this kind of conversation. They are going to remodel the Capitol every 100 years or so, and I think it’s an important opportunity to think about what we have, and what’s missing.”

Scott Russell, who’s been sending out email updates on the subcommittee process, notes that there is a public hearing coming up this Thursday, November 12, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board building, 2117 West River Road North. Comments can also be made by emailing capitol.art@state.mn.us. And there’s that Change.org petition sponsored by Healing Minnesota Stories: Make the Minnesota State Capitol More Welcoming: Remove Offensive Art, Add Inspiring Art.

If you want to follow the work of the subcommittee, the next meeting is December 7, and information is posted on the committee website. Members of the subcommittee include:

  • The Hon. Paul Anderson, Minnesota Supreme Court (ret.) Co-Chair
  • Sen. David Senjem, Co-Chair
  • Rep. Diane Loeffler, Co-Chair
  • Dana Badgerow, Better Business Bureau
  • Prof. William Green, Augsburg College
  • Peter Hilger, University of Minnesota
  • Ted Lentz, Ted Lentz & Associates, Cass Gilbert Society
  • Sen. Ann Rest
  • Anton Treuer, Executive Director, American Indian Resource Center, Bemidji State University
  • Rep. Dean Urdahl
  • Matthew Welch, Deputy Director, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
  • Prof. Gwen Westerman, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Want to learn more?

Art glorifying the conquest of Indians needs to leave state capitol (The Circle, 11/3/2015)

The other debate at the state Capitol: What to do with the building’s most controversial art? (MinnPost, 4/6/2015)

Healing Minnesota Stories has a blog devoted to the Capitol art issue.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under race

2 responses to “Minnesota’s awful art problem

  1. Rosemary Ruffenach

    Thanks Mary for raising the profile of this issue. When I first heard that the capitol art was to be reviewed, I wrote Gov. Dayton volunteering for the committee. I did so because I had worked at the capital and was daily offended by the art work’s bias. Also, I am an artist, unlike those actually named to the committee. Alas, I heard nothing.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Wrestling with questions about Minnesota’s awful art | News Day

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