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Officials rethinking 1930s murals at St. Paul City Hall

November 28, 2018

This Nov. 20, 2018, photo shows two pieces of murals displayed in the City Council chambers of the city hall in St. Paul. Officials in St. Paul are rethinking murals from the 1930s that line the walls of the City Council chambers. The City Council and Ramsey County Board are expected to vote next month to start the process of commissioning new murals to temporarily cover the old ones. The Star Tribune reports the new murals will rotate in and out of the chambers, allowing visitors to see them alongside the original works. Chicago artist John Norton painted the murals. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Officials in St. Paul are rethinking murals from the 1930s lining the walls in the City Council chambers that the council president says reflect a “very white and very male” perspective.

City leaders and residents say the four murals have become outdated. The murals depict a voyageur, a steamboat captain, a railroad surveyor and a laborer, all of them white.

The murals “seem to reflect a specific time in the history of St. Paul, and a specific perspective that is really very white and very male,” City Council President Amy Brendmoen.

“There is something that’s sort of contradictory about the feeling we want people to have when they’re in the chamber, and what the murals portray,” Brendmoen said.

Chicago artist John Norton, whose work is displayed elsewhere in Minnesota and across the U.S., painted the murals.

The City Council and Ramsey County Board are expected to vote next month to start the process of commissioning new murals to temporarily cover the old ones. The new murals will rotate in and out of the chambers, allowing visitors to see them alongside the original works, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported .

Officials say they want to ensure that visitors feel welcome at City Hall while also honoring the past.

St. Paul resident Barry Frantum remembers the first time he stood in the chambers and saw the murals. He said he looked up and saw images of black men loading cargo onto a riverboat and of two American Indian men looking up at a white priest holding a crucifix.

“I was so stunned,” said Frantum, a member of the Lakota tribe. “You walk in and you turn left, and, bam! It just smacks you in the face.”

Ramsey County Historical Society president Chad Roberts said the process of putting new art in the chambers is expected to take about a year. The budget is more than $34,500, with money coming from a joint city and county fund for building maintenance and upkeep.

Since the Ramsey County Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, proposed changes to the interior must be reviewed by the state, according to George Gause, St. Paul’s heritage preservation supervisor. He said depending on how pieces are hung, adding new art to the council chambers could affect the room’s wood paneling.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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