The Speaker’s Advisory Group on State Capitol Artifacts heard a presentation from Librarian of Virginia Sandy Treadway about art currently in the Capitol — art that commission members noted largely represented white men. In the Tuesday meeting, the commission members suggested seeking long-term loans of appropriate art from museums and other institutions.
“It is primarily, with one or two exceptions, men who served either Virginia’s government over the years from the 18th century to the present, or served Virginia in the United States Congress, or who served in positions such as secretary of state, secretary of war, so forth,” Treadway said.
“So the full range of Virginia’s history certainly is not represented there. But the range of Virginia’s political contributions are there,” she said.
Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) called for the creation of the committee in July 2020 at the same time as the overnight removal of busts and statues of Confederate leaders from the Capitol.
“Virginia has a story to tell that extends far beyond glorifying the Confederacy, whose primary objective in the Civil War was to preserve an ideology that maintained the enslavement of human beings. It is time for our Capitol to truly reflect our history,” Filler-Corn said in her July 24, 2020 press release.
On Tuesday, Treadway said she considers the chamber of the House and its chronological series of portraits of speakers “a little bit sacrosanct.” Other artworks might be considered for removal. She said one potential criteria for art to remove would be anyone who had actively served the Confederacy.
“Those are easily identified and could easily be replaced,” she said. “But what I’d love to see is more women, more African Americans, more native Virginia Indians, I would like to see that range of folks there.”
Citizen commission member Felicia Cosby said, “It was a little disheartening for me to scroll through pages and pages and I didn’t see anyone that looks like me.”
The members of the commission agreed that there was a need for more inclusive art to be displayed in the Capitol, but they said there’s no budget for art in the Capitol. Treadway said other works in the collection would be similar to those on display.
“We don’t have the diversity in the collection that I think Virginia needs,” she said. “So the question is, are there other museums that might have it, that might be willing to place them on loan in the Capitol, or would there be an opportunity for an appropriation either purchase or to commission some special works?”
“Right now the only portrait of an African American in the Capitol that I’m aware of is Governor Wilder’s portrait,” Treadway said.
Treadway said the Library had helped the Executive Mansion identify appropriate art for its diversity efforts, and had worked with loaning institutions to facilitate the long-term loans. She said the Library could do that for the Capitol.
Filler-Corn and other commissioners emphasized the importance of leveraging their contacts to identify art at schools, churches, and museums that could be used.
Any art removed from the Capitol would be returned to the Library, but Filler-Corn said she wasn’t removing any more art immediately.
I think probably what makes the most sense is to start identifying what we’re going to put up, and then we can figure out, yeah obviously some will need to be removed in order for others to go up,” Filler Corn said. “I think a lot of that will come from some of the contacts that you all have and that we can all come up with.”
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