TOPEKA — The statehouse must honor Kansas history through art, lawmakers said, advocating a new mural celebrating the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment and urging the placement of a replica of the Ad Astra statue on the statehouse lawn .
Putting up the statue took years of work. The eight-foot-tall replica of the statue of Ad Astra, the famous Kansas warrior atop the Capitol dome, has been in storage for years due to bureaucratic complications and funding concerns.
A 6 foot socket already has bIt was made for the statue on the Statehouse grounds, and the longstanding plan has been to place the statue on the pedestal and surround it with plaques, including several explaining the history of Native Americans in the state.
Former Senator Randall Hardy, R-Salina, said lawmakers needed to make one final push and get the statue installed, and supported Senator Elaine Bowers’ legislation. Senate bill 11.
Bowers, R-Concordia, provided an overview of the legislation during a meeting of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The bill would re-authorize the placement of the Ad Astra replica statue on the site, delegating authorizing authority from the Capitol Area Plaza Authority to the Capitol Preservation Committee.
The bill would also change how the statue project is funded. A fund for the sculpture has been established, but the bill would make it an unlimited special revenue fund by June 2023. Bowers said the installation project was complicated, as was locating the replica statue’s history.
“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 to figure out where the statue fits in,” Bowers said. “And as we found out, the small statue was not found in any of those reports. And we came to the conclusion that the artist was never paid for the artwork or the Ad Astra Plaza.”
Bowers said installing the statue would honor Kansas artist Richard Bergen, who created both Ad Astra sculptures. Bergen died in 2020, and the replica The statue of Ad Astra was left in his son’s art studio in Salina.
“We believe that SB11 is the beginning of the completion of this project as we were meant to have it at the beginning,” Bowers said.
Hardy said he became interested in the project in 2017 when he walked across the site and saw the empty plinth. Hardy said the work to replicate the statue was approved and carried out along with the statue on the dome, but by the time the statue on the dome was finished, funds for the statue’s replica dried up.
“It’s been dormant for over 20 years now,” Hardy said. “And so the place is really embarrassing. It’s an embarrassment for the people, it’s an embarrassment for the Statehouse grounds. And when complete, it could be a wonderful magnet for curious visitors who want to better understand both the dome sculpture and Kansas Native American history.”
During the committee meeting Senate bill 39 was also discussed. The bill would have the Capitol Preservation Committee implement plans to create and install a mural honoring the 1st Kansas Colored Voluntary Infantry Regiment.
The regiment was the first black regiment 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 for equality.
“I think it’s a beautiful story, it’s probably under-told,” Bowers said. “And then we have to encourage that.”