‘Unifying’ art replaces mural that featured Confederate flag

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Senate on Tuesday unveiled a gleaming new piece of art at one of its most-visited corridors in the state Capitol, after removing an old mural that included the Confederate flag.

The new artwork — a huge piece of wood in the shape of the state — represents the latest effort by lawmakers to strip away the divisive symbol from its official emblems amid scrutiny in recent years over public monuments to the Confederacy.

The original “Five Flags” mural was commissioned by the Senate in 1978. Senate officials said the renovation of the chambers in 2016 prompted the removal of the mural, but it was never returned to the space it occupied for nearly 40 years at the public entrance of the Senate gallery.

The five flags refer to the banners that once flew over the state, including the Confederate flag.

The 10- foot -by-16- foot (3-meter-by-5-meter) mural is now on display about an hour’s drive from the capital city, at a bank in downtown Perry, Florida, where Senate officials said, “it continues to serve as an educational tool, depicting various scenes and figures in our Florida history for patrons and visitors.”

The new artwork also includes the Senate’s revamped seal, which was also recently changed to remove the Confederate flag.

In a brief ceremony Tuesday morning, Senate President Bill Galvano noted that the space on the Capitol’s fifth floor was among the most visited in the state Capitol.

Galvano called the artwork “timeless, unifying, and welcoming.”

“It was my goal to establish here a piece of artwork that represents the state of Florida, it’s uniqueness and its resiliency.”

The commissioned piece was crafted by Tallahassee artist and furniture maker Barry Miller.

The main feature of the installation is a huge block of pecky cypress cut in the shape of the state. The wood was salvaged from an old fallen cypress dredged from the Ocklawaha River in North Central Florida. Its wood is streaked with tunnels, giving it visual texture.

The tunneling is especially appropriate because it is adjacent to the galleries from which the public can watch Senate floor proceedings. The tunnels, often made by insects or fungus, are sometimes referred to as galleries.

“When people visit the Florida Senate, they can take pride as they walk past this and into the chamber,” Galvano said.

“Like the pecky cypress wood from which it was constructed,” he said, “this new sculpture signifies the resilient and enduring spirit of past, present, and future generations of Floridians.”

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