Dayton questions Civil War murals in his office

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton played art critic Tuesday, questioning whether a stately meeting room in his office suite at the Capitol still needs five separate murals depicting Civil War battle scenes.

“I’m not an art historian and I’m not an art expert,” Dayton said after a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, which is overseeing a multi-million-dollar renovation at the domed Capitol. While calling the painted murals “historically significant,” Dayton wondered if they put the state’s best foot forward.

“Should that be what dictates how we represent the Capitol to current Minnesotans, to future Minnesotans, to visitors for the next 50 to 100 years?” Dayton asked. “I think that’s a question we should be answering.”

The Civil War scenes fill five of seven murals that ring the upper walls of the Governor’s Reception Room, which is where governors hold press conferences, host groups and important gatherings, and often meet with Cabinet members and leading lawmakers. Ted Lentz, an architect and citizen member of the Preservation Commission, pointed out that the murals date to the 1906 opening of the Capitol.

“Remember that only about 40 years had passed since the Civil War,” Lentz said. “So you had lawmakers and officials who were veterans, for whom the war was the defining event of their life and in the country’s life.”

Brian Pease, the Capitol site manager for the Minnesota Historical Society, said the murals would be difficult to relocate, as they were painted directly onto the walls, and he questioned whether the Historical Society would support such a move.

Much of the art on display in the building dates to 1906, Pease said, and was chosen by architect Cass Gilbert, who also designed the U.S. Capitol.

Dayton didn’t stop with the Civil War murals. He also said he’s not sure that the Capitol still needs to display framed portraits of every Minnesota governor since statehood.

“To me this building should be about all Minnesota, all its elements and its diversity,” Dayton said. The governor said he wasn’t sure what kind of art might make for good replacements. Pease said there’s no money set aside in the Capitol renovation budget for new art for the building.

Members of the Preservation Commission said they hoped to start a public discussion about what kind of art would be displayed in the Capitol once it’s remade. The $270 million renovation is already underway, and some building occupants have already been displaced. The governor’s staff is scheduled to move out in June, to space in the nearby Veterans Services Building, and won’t return to the Capitol until December 2016 at the earliest.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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