Editor's note: Story updated at 1:20 p.m. New material in bold.
AUGUSTA — Last week a spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage said the disputed mural at the state Department of Labor would remain there until the administration found a new home.
Apparently the administration has had a change of heart.
The 36-foot mural depicting historical moments in Maine's work history has been removed from the lobby in the Labor Department.
Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the department, said this morning that the mural was removed over the weekend. He referred all additional questions to the Governor's Office.
Last Friday about 250 artists and union workers held a rally at the Labor Department to contest the mural's planned relocation to Portland City Hall. Robert Shetterly, an artist from Brooksville, said his group would mobilize again and urged the Portland City Council to vote against accepting the 11-panel art piece.
Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones said he was wary of the council being seen as "enabling" the governor's decision to remove the display. He also acknowledged that the fight unfolding in Augusta could suddenly shift to Portland.
It's unclear if pre-empting those factors is the impetus for the governor's decision to reverse its plans to keep the mural in its place until the Portland council's scheduled April vote to accept the relocation.
It's also unclear where the murals have been moved to.
"The mural has been removed and is in storage awaiting relocation to a more appropriate venue," said Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage. "Workers and employers need to work together to create opportunity for Maine’s 50,000 unemployed. We understand that not everyone agrees with this decision, but the Maine Department of Labor has to be focused on the job at hand."
Shetterly called the governor's decision to remove the mural "under the cover of darkness" a "sneaky and cowardly" move.
"If he's so right about why these images should be taken down ... why not do it in the light of day?" Shetterly said.
He said the governor's move would fail if it was designed to pre-empt the protests Shetterly alluded to last week. He predicted the resistance would be more vociferous now.
"The response will be overwhelming," Shetterly said. "Whether it's the NAACP, women, workers or artists, the governor has systematically disrespected all of these people. He seems to be working through each group, one at a time."
He added, "This is a crucial moment for the citizens of this state. I, frankly, can't allow this to happen."
Judy Taylor, the artist who made the mural, said she has no idea where the mural is being kept. Taylor said the governor's office had not contacted her since news broke that the governor planned to remove the 11-panel piece.
Taylor said she was stunned that the governor moved the piece over the weekend.
"To put something in the dark like that is just unAmerican," she said. "I don't know how he (LePage) would feel about his work being taken away from him."
David Marshall is one of nine Portland city councilors who would have voted on accepting the mural April 4. Marshall also originally introduced the idea of bringing the mural to Portland City Hall.
Marshall on Monday said he no longer supported Portland taking the mural.
"What was presented as a gift on Thursday has become a Trojan horse," said Marshall, who attended the protest at the Labor Department last week.
He added, "We heard from hundreds of people not to take the mural."
Marshall said he hadn't discussed the matter with other councilors, however, he said, "My guess is they're receiving the same overwhelming message that I am."
Labor Department employees seemed surprised to see the mural replaced by bare walls and spackling. Several popped into the waiting area to snap photos with their cell phones as news about the sudden removal spread.