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Iconic Capitol statues will be restored

Empower Wisconsin | July 21, 2020

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON  — The iconic State Capitol statues ripped down by a mob of protesters last month will be restored and reinstalled in the places they have long guarded. 

The 16-member State Capitol and Executive Residence Board (SCERB) on Monday approved a motion that calls for raising the funds to bring the Forward and Hans Christian Heg statues back to their original glory. 

Just how much that will cost remains unknown, but the state’s insurance policy for the artwork comes with a $50,000 deductible, according to a board report. The Department of Administration earlier this month told Empower Wisconsin that it was still tallying the cost of damages. Taxpayers could be looking at a bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

“It was clear that members thought that this was a priority to do the restoration and replacement and make sure that there is a plan to keep them preserved and maintained for a long time in the future,” said state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) a long-time member and incoming chairwoman of the board that oversees projects for Wisconsin’s historic Capitol and Executive mansion.

The idea is to not only restore the statues but make sure they’re protected from such acts of vandalism in the future, SCERB members said.

Restoration will be no small feat. SCERB members made it clear that repairing the damage to the statues will take time. 

During a long violent night on June 23-24, Black Livers Matter protesters ravaged portions of Downtown Madison, particularly the Capitol Square. Angry that police had arrested a black man (who faces federal charges of extortion and local felony counts for allegedly trying to shake down restaurant owners), the mob of militant demonstrators smashed Capitol windows, set fire to Madison’s City-County Building, and badly beat a state senator as part of their rampage. 

As Empower Wisconsin reported, the Black Lives Matter demonstrators also ripped down and soiled the famous, 7-foot Forward statue, a proud symbol of progress created by a Wisconsin female artist nearly 130 years ago. Then they proceeded to drag down and decapitate the statue of Hans Christian Heg, a Union colonel who fought and died in the Civil War in large part because he abhorred slavery. They dumped it in Lake Monona. 

The Heg statue head has yet to be found more than a month later. It will likely have to be reconstructed. 

While the times are unprecedented, Loudenbeck said “SCERB exists for moments like this.” The board presided over the clean-up of the Capitol after protesters took over the Statehouse during demonstrations against Act 10 in 2011, a repair project originally estimated at $270,000 for exterior and interior work.  

The current Capitol, which celebrated its centennial in 2017, has undergone several renovations, including a decade-long, $140 million upgrade in the 1990s. 

“We have to take the long view on the Capitol,” Loudenbeck said. “It shouldn’t be political; it should be about preservation and maintenance.” 

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