Kansas governor signs bills for Civil War mural, Ad Astra sculpture

By: - March 13, 2023 12:10 pm
Kansas Statehouse

Statehouse art installation projects have received approval after years of funding obstacles and delays. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Two art installation projects will become reality after years of delay.

On Monday, Gov. Laura Kelly signed bills authorizing plans for a mural honoring the 1st Kansas Colored Voluntary Infantry Regiment and the placement of a life-size Ad Astra sculpture on Statehouse grounds.

Both projects have been long-anticipated. Plans for a mural honoring the 1st Kansas Colored unit have been in the works since 2000, when state law stipulated the Kansas state historical society and the department of administration work together to develop a mural, following Statehouse repairs and renovations. The project was stalled because of funding issues.

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.

“This mural is about honoring those who gave their last full measure of devotion and ultimate sacrifice to serving the United States of America,” said Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat and member of the Capitol Preservation Committee. “A mural honoring this regiment will not only honor the sacrifices of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry but will also further recognize Kansas’ role in holding the union together. This story and its inspiration are more relevant than ever today — and long overdue.”

With Kelly’s signing of Senate Bill 39, the Capitol Preservation Committee will begin raising funds and searching for an artist to create the mural.

Kelly also signed Senate Bill 11, involving the Ad Astra sculpture. The bill reauthorizes 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 Ad Astra sculpture, which is an eight-foot replica of the American Indian atop the Capitol dome, has been in storage for years because of bureaucratic complications and funding concerns.

The longstanding plan has been to place the statue on the Statehouse grounds and surround it with plaques, including several that explain American Indian history in the state. A six-foot pedestal for the statue already has been made and positioned at the Capitol.

Sen. Elaine Bowers, a Concordia Republican who sponsored both bills, said she was glad the statue would finally be placed.

“The Ad Astra project became a Capitol Preservation Committee priority project over the last two years. Finally, the (8-foot-2-inch) Ad Astra sculpture will find its home on the pedestal, which has been empty for way too long,” Bowers said.

Both bills received 39-0 approval in the Senate and 122-0 approval in the House.

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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.