PORTLAND (AP) — An artist whose 36-foot, labor-history mural was removed from the Maine Department of Labor said the artwork should be returned to the agency’s walls and suggested the state should hang her late father’s Bronze Star in its place until then.
In a related development, one of the private owners of another state building said Wednesday he knows the mural has been safely stored in that building, and that he is awaiting instructions from the administration.
Artist Judy Taylor of Tremont said it was "heartbreaking" to learn the controversy may have been sparked by an anonymous letter that compared her work to North Korean propaganda. Taylor said in a statement Wednesday that her late father served in the Korean War and received a Bronze Star.
Taylor spent a year working on the mural for the Department of Labor using a $60,000 grant. It was installed in 2008 but was removed last weekend after Gov. Paul LePage said it was biased toward organized labor and out of line with his pro-business agenda.
"Perhaps we should hang my father’s Bronze Star for his service in Korea in the now-empty reception area of the Maine Department of Labor until the mural is returned, as a symbol of the importance of remembering our history and not shuttering it away," Taylor wrote.
The 11-panel mural depicts Maine’s labor history and includes scenes of mill workers, labor strikes and child laborers. Taylor said she added a personal touch to the piece by painting images of her late mother and father in two of the panels. Her father is shown as a young Army officer and her mother as a little girl in the panel featuring Frances Perkins, secretary of labor under Franklin Roosevelt, she said.
The governor remains committed to making the Department of Labor more business-friendly, said spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett. In addition to the mural being removed, departmental conference rooms now named for labor leaders will be renamed for counties, mountains or something else perceived as neutral.
"Employers lose two-thirds of the misconduct cases held at the Department of Labor, and Maine created just 56 net jobs over the last decade," Bennett said. "While we appreciate Ms. Taylor’s personal story and talent, the governor knows that the Department of Labor must serve both employees and employers for Maine to prosper. Changing the decor of the agency is just the first step."
Labor advocates, artists and others have criticized LePage’s decision, saying the mural depicts an important part of Maine history and belongs at the Department of Labor. A rally to demand the mural’s return is scheduled for Friday at the State House.
The president of the Maine College of Art in Portland said the mural captures a piece of history and that its removal is an "act of censorship."
"Gov. LePage did not like what he saw," Donald Tuski said in a statement Wednesday. "By removing the mural, he smashed that mirror — an attempt to rewrite history."
Kevin Mattson, one of the owners of the sprawling Central Maine Commerce Center building, told the Portland Press Herald that the mural is safely in storage somewhere in the building on Commerce Drive in Augusta.
The Department of Labor is the largest tenant in the 311,000-square-foot building, which has about a dozen tenants.
Mattson, a Democrat, told the Portland paper he doesn’t know the mural’s exact location. "I know it’s secure in the property," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I know it’s in there somewhere."
He said the building’s facilities staff removed the mural over the weekend at the request of the Leased Space Division of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
LePage has refused to disclose the mural’s location. When asked whether it is in the Commerce Center building, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt told the Press Herald he would "neither confirm nor deny" the report.