Minnesota Capitol sculpture may have “Liberty” language removed

Minnesota’s Capitol building is undergoing a $307 million restoration and a

Rep Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis

committee is questioning whether some historical art should remain in the building.

One particular piece of artwork’s inscription is being questioned and may be removed from the most prominent piece of art in the Minnesota House of Representatives Chamber.

Interfaith Network of St. Paul’s blog, Healing Minnesota Stories, reported over the weekend that one of the subcommittee’s three chairs, Representative Diane Loeffeler, (DFL-Minneapolis) learned that the “Spirit of Government” sculpture above the House Chamber Speaker’s desk was to have its inscription re-gilded in gold leaf as a part of the restoration project.  The sculpture reads “The trail of the pioneer bore the footprints of liberty.”  Per the blog, Rep. Loeffler asked that the work be delayed in order to consider removing the language altogether from the sculptcarlure. “On a voice vote, the subcommittee passed a motion recommending the State Preservation Commission delay that work. There was no audible dissent.”

Per the Healing Stories blog, Rep. Loeffeler said the language “takes away from the idea of people working together to build Minnesota.”  At a previous meeting, Loeffler stated “I would like to erase that statement.” and noted that it was not a part of the original 1905 Capitol.  (The piece was added in 1938 during a renovation.)

The wall behind the sculpture reads “Vox Populorum Est Vox Dei,”the Voice of the People is the Voice of God.” This language isn’t being questioned by the panel.

“Spirit of Government” sculpture, Inscription reads: “The trail of the pioneers bore the footprints of liberty”
Minnesota House Chamber, Credit: MN House
Minnesota House Chamber, Credit: MN House

The activist Interfaith Network is seeking to have a voice in the “one-in-a-lifetime-opportunity for change” and is questioning artwork depicting “Manifest Destiny” and calling for a better reflection of the state’s diverse population.

The “Spirit of Government” sculpture was commissioned from Italian-American, and Minnesotan, Carlo (Charles) Brioschi, who attended the Brera School of Art in Milan, Italy.  Brioschi worked on artwork for the St. Paul Cathedral, the Orpheum and State Theaters, Northrup Auditorium, the St. Paul Hotel, and also sculpted the Christopher Columbus monument on the state capitol grounds.  25,000 were on hand for its dedication in 1931.  Brioschi also made the famous “Floyd of Rosedale” bronze pig sculpture which is awarded to the victor of the Minnesota vs. Iowa football rivalry.

A 1998 interview with Amerigo Brioshi, who was commissioned along with his father to create the “The Spirit of Government” sculpture, explained the piece of artwork.  “The main central figure represents the North Star State brought about by the exploration of Lewis and Clark which are shown at the right of the central figure as the explorer and the voyager. On the opposite side stands the Indian Chief that guided Lewis and Clark. The Indian maiden represents Sacagawea, the maiden that provided good feeling among the different tribes that were confronted by Lewis and Clark as well as food and health care when needed by the expedition. This basic group made up the fundamental characters that made possible the establishing of the territory and the ‘North Star State’.”

Healing Minnesota Stories also reported that Professor Gwen Westerman of the University of Minnesota-Mankato, who sits on the Capitol Art subcommittee, is losing patience with the lack of action on dealing with “how Native Americans are depicted in capitol art.” Westerman closed out the September 14th meeting by saying, “I am not asking–I am telling you–this needs to be the first item on the agenda the next time.”

"Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony" Douglas Volk c. 1905
“Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” Douglas Volk c. 1905

As reported in the September 17th edition of The Capitol Report, subcommittee member D. Stephen Elliott, director of the Minnesota Historical Society, is also questioning pieces deemed insensitive.  In regards to the amazing painting of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, which was displayed in the Governor’s reception room, Elliot asked: “Why is it in the Capitol?” The painting depicts the 1851 agreement between the U.S. federal government and the Wahpeton and Sisseton Dakota Indians.

 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, which was displayed in the Governor's reception room, Elliot asked: "Why is it in the Capitol?" according to the September 17th edition of The Capitol Report. The painting depicts the 1851 agreement between the U.S. federal government and the Wahpeton and Sisseton Dakota Indians.
Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux, Courtesy: Minnesota Historical Society

Elliott suggested that the Art subcommittee “could commission a modern artist to create new pieces that depict a version of Minnesota history that has not previously been told at the Capitol,” per The Capitol Report.

Governor Mark Dayton is also a critic of some Capitol art and has questioned the need for all five large Civil War battle paintings inside the Governor’s office at the Capitol.  According to MPR News last January, Rep Loeffler agreed, “We have enough battles in here that I think some rooms should not have as many victims visually portrayed.”

"Battle of Gettysburg" c. 1906 Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum
“Battle of Gettysburg” c. 1906 Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum

Alpha News reached out to the Capitol Art Subcommittee to see if meetings are recorded, they are not.  However, the meetings are open to the public and the next one will be held on Monday, October 12, from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm, location to be determined.   In addition, public hearings will be held in Rochester, Mankato, Bemidji, Duluth, and in the metro-area, beginning in late October. Check their website for updates.


Contributor Alpha News