ST. PAUL — A group of lawmakers and experts guiding the state Capitol's renovation met Monday to discuss how to give the building's massive art collection its own facelift to address concerns that some paintings unfairly depict Native Americans.
From a painting of a horde of Dakota warriors with feathered headdresses storming into a village to another of a bare-chested woman, some members of Minnesota's Capitol Preservation Committee worry that images displayed prominently inside the Capitol hew more toward cowboys-and-Indians imagery than an accurate historical record.
Group members are considering several options, trying to strike a balance between showcasing historical events and fairly depicting Native Americans and their place in Minnesota's history.
One example of an inaccurate painting is "Attack on New Ulm" by Anton Gag. It portrays a Dakota tribe siege on the Minnesota settlement during the Dakota War of 1862. Gwen Westerman — a Minnesota State University English professor, committee member and Dakota woman — said the warriors' shirtless attire isn't correct and the nearly identical men further the stereotype "that Dakota people are a faceless menace."
"When we come to this place and see our family members depicted in these paintings, how must we feel?" she asked.
The subcommittee of the Capitol Preservation Committee didn't make any final decisions Monday, and its final recommendations aren't expected until January. The Capitol is set to reopen in 2017.
Group members also are considering adding placards to give critical historical context to the images shown and correct inaccuracies, placing other paintings in the Capitol galleries that depict Native Americans in a positive light or removing some offensive paintings altogether.
Despite some mistakes in clothing or other details, Republican Rep. Dean Urdahl said most of the paintings accurately depict the events in question. An author and former history teacher, Urdahl said the Capitol should display all facets of Minnesota's history — the good and the bad — and explain where paintings got it wrong.
"We have to remember we're looking at things through the lens of 1905," he said, referencing the year when many of the images were painted.