Gov. Dayton walks out of Civil War artwork meeting

Governor Mark Dayton walked out of a Capitol Preservation Commission meeting that he chairs accusing a Republican lawmaker of misstating his stance on Civil War artwork at the Capitol.

“If this commission gets hijacked again for political purposes, I will resign,” said Dayton referring to his role on the Capitol Preservation Commission.

At the center of the controversy is a series of Civil War paintings commissioned by Capitol architect Cass Gilbert in 1905. Gilbert wanted the paintings to hang in the Governor’s Reception Room and depict Minnesota soldiers’ valiant contribution to the Civil War.  The paintings include “The Battle of Nashville,” “The Fourth Minnesota Entering Vicksburg,” “The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge,” and “The Battle of Gettysburg.”

The Minnesota Historical Society has temporarily removed the paintings for restoration as a part of the $307 million capitol renovation project. Governor Dayton has argued for months that before they are returned to the Capitol the Society should consider replacing some of them with artwork that better reflects the entire 150 years of state history. The Capitol Architectural and Planning Board recently agreed voting 5-3 that the four paintings should not be returned to the Governor’s Reception Room.

But many members of the Capital Preservation Commission disagreed.

“This is the most important story in state history, and it should be told in its most important room,” argued State Representative Dean Urdahl of Grove City. “I think those paintings represent Minnesota’s most important contribution to our nation’s history and displaying those very important paintings in arguably the most important room in the Capitol is an important thing to do.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt agreed with Urdahl. 

“I think the legislature would not have appropriated money for this project knowing that we were going to be removing part of the history of the Capitol,” said Daudt.

The Commission passed a motion on a voice vote strongly recommending to the Minnesota Historical Society to return the Civil War paintings to the Governor’s Reception Room.

The final decision on the paintings rests with the Historical Society.

In a late afternoon news conference Governor Dayton said he would abide by the Society’s decision.