Wisconsin gets federal funds to help restore vandalized Capitol statues Forward and Hans Christian Heg
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
by Meg Jones and Molly Beck
The Forward and Col. Hans Christian Heg statues vandalized last summer at the Capitol are now being repaired thanks to a federal grant.
Wisconsin is receiving a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help repair the large bronze statues damaged during protests. The NEH awarded the money as part of its chairman’s emergency grants, which have a limit of $30,000.
The grants are typically given following natural disasters that affect American cultural artifacts that need to be salvaged before the normal year-long process of awarding peer-reviewed grants.
“We feel strongly as an agency and I feel strongly as chairman that we can’t expect our youth to know our history if we don’t provide them with educational materials, whether it’s books or statues, to tell them about our history,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede.
The state is also in contact with the NEH for possibly getting an additional $30,000 grant to help with restoring the statues.
The statues have been taken to Detroit where restoration will be done by Venus Bronze Works Inc. with reinstallation on the Capitol grounds anticipated by next July, according to a Department of Administration spokeswoman.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an August interview that a federal task force was created by President Donald Trump following the destruction of historical statues amid protests in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“The president is a true believer that peaceful protesting is something we want to encourage, but the destruction of property through criminal self-help is not appropriate,” Bernhardt said.
Protesters who toppled the two statues in June said they did so because the message the statues represent does not actually exist for residents of color in Wisconsin, which has some of the worst outcomes for black residents in the country.
Heg was the highest-ranking Army officer from Wisconsin killed in the Civil War, commissioner of Wisconsin's prisons, prominent anti-slavery activist and a founding member of the Republican Party. He was shot to death while leading his men into battle at Chickamauga. His statue had stood on the Capitol grounds since 1926.
Wisconsin women raised funds to hire a female sculptor to create the Forward statue which was installed outside the Capitol in 1895. Because it was deteriorating from the elements, a bronze replica was made and the original was placed inside the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1998. The replica was damaged by protesters.
Bernhardt said the protesters should have used a legal process to take the statues down.
"We have a political process that allows anyone to petition their government … that doesn’t allow you to commit criminal destruction,” he said. “These are monuments and memorials that were carefully crafted and delicately placed … to have them just destructed by criminals is not acceptable.”
Bernhardt visited Madison in August to tour the Wisconsin Historical Society and to view photographs of the damaged statues. He said he was not able to view the statues in person.
Peede noted that the NEH has funded several projects relating to the centennial of women’s suffrage including a PBS documentary that aired a few weeks ago. Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment for universal suffrage for women and the “Forward” statue commemorates women’s suffrage.
“What’s so powerful about the ‘Forward’ statue is that it represents a movement, not just one individual, and says a lot about Wisconsin’s opinion of itself,” said Peede, who has been NEH chairman for 3 ½ years.
Since its founding in 1965, the NEH has awarded more than $100 million to Wisconsin.
The NEH also awarded a $30,000 chairman’s emergency grant to replace a statue of Frederick Douglass destroyed by vandals in July in Rochester, N.Y.