Kansas lawmakers say it’s time to finally install Ad Astra replica statue on lawn

New mural would honor legacy of Kansas black soldiers who served during the Civil War

By: - January 25, 2023 2:26 pm
New legislation would promote the installation of a replica Ad Astra statue, a project that's been in the works for decades. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

New legislation would promote the installation of a replica Ad Astra statue, a project that’s been in the works for decades. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Statehouse needs to honor Kansas history through art, legislators said, advocating for a new mural celebrating the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment and pushing for the placement of a replica Ad Astra statue on the statehouse lawn. 

Placing the statue has been the work of many years. The eight-foot replica statue of the Ad Astra statue, the famous Kansas warrior atop the Capitol dome, has been sitting in storage for years due to bureaucratic complications and funding concerns. 

A 6-foot pedestal has already been made for the statue on the Statehouse grounds, and the long-time plan has been to put the statue on the pedestal and surround it with plaques, including several that explain Native American history in the state. 

Former state Sen. Randall Hardy, R-Salina, said lawmakers needed to make a final push and get the statue installed, speaking in support of Sen. Elaine Bowers’ legislation, Senate Bill 11

Bowers, R-Concordia, gave an overview of the legislation during a Wednesday Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting. The bill would re-authorize the placement of the Ad Astra replica statue on the grounds, transferring approval authority from the Capitol Area Plaza Authority to the Capitol Preservation Committee. 

The bill would also amend the statue project funding. A fund for the sculpture has been created, but the bill would make it a no-limit special revenue fund through June 2023. Bowers said the installation project has been complicated, as was finding the history of the replica statue. 

“I want you to know how many weeks and weeks it took to go back and research reports, minutes, even trips to the historical museum, trying to find where the statue fit in,” Bowers said. “And as we found out, the small statue could not be found in any of these reports. And we concluded the artist was never paid for the piece of art or the Ad Astra Plaza.” 

Bowers said installing the statue now would honor Kansas artist, Richard Bergen, who made both Ad Astra sculptures. Bergen died in 2020, and the replica Ad Astra statue was left in his son’s art studio in Salina. 

“We think SB11 is the beginning of finishing this project, as we should have in the beginning,” Bowers said. 

Hardy said he became interested in the project in 2017, when he was walking around the grounds and saw the empty pedestal. Hardy said the work for the replica statue had been approved and undertaken along with the dome’s statue, but when the statue on the dome was finished, funding for the replica statue dried up. 

“It’s been dormant for over 20 years now,” Hardy said. “And as it is, the plaza is really, it’s an embarrassment. It’s an embarrassment to the people, it’s an embarrassment to the statehouse grounds. And if finished, it could be a glorious magnet for curious visitors wanting a better understanding of both the dome sculpture and the history of the Native Americans in Kansas.” 

During the committee meeting, Senate Bill 39 was also discussed. The bill would have the Capitol Preservation Committee implement plans for the creation and installation of a mural honoring the 1st Kansas Colored Voluntary Infantry Regiment.

The regiment was the first Black regiment to be organized in a northern state and the first Black unit to see combat during the Civil War. The mural is meant to symbolize courage, strength and the ongoing struggle toward equality. 

“I think it’s a beautiful story, it’s probably undertold,” Bowers said. “And then we need to promote that.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.