AUGUSTA — Donald and Patricia Pickett visited the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor’s headquarters Monday expecting to see the now-famous mural depicting Maine’s labor history.
All they saw was a blank wall.
Staffers told the retired couple from Pittston that the mural had been removed during the weekend.
“We asked, “Where is it?’ ” said Donald Pickett. “They said, ‘We don’t know.’ “
Indeed, the whereabouts of the mural are a secret.
Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, said Monday that there has been so much publicity about the mural that the administration has decided to safeguard it by not disclosing its storage location.
“We are protecting the mural right now,” she said.
Bennett said the mural will be stored until the governor develops a plan for where to put it. She said LePage is waiting to hear whether the Portland City Council wants it at City Hall.
That now seems unlikely.
The council was scheduled to take up the issue next Monday, but Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said the council is postponing discussion of the issue, maybe indefinitely.
Mavodones and four other councilors, Kevin Donoghue, Dory Waxman, John Anton and David Marshall, expressed little enthusiasm Monday for the idea of displaying the mural on the second floor of City Hall.
Marshall, who initially was supportive, said he changed his mind after realizing that the mural would be a “Trojan horse” because the city would be facilitating its removal from the Department of Labor, something he strongly opposes.
Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said city officials shouldn’t make it easy for the governor to remove the mural.
“If the governor wants the mural down, let him deal with the consequences,” she said.
LePage’s decision to remove the mural has angered labor groups and artists and drawn attention from the national media. While some conservative talk show hosts have praised LePage, liberal comedians such as Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” have mocked him.
The New York Times published an editorial Sunday that said LePage has “stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs’ chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments.”
Several hundred people attended a rally Friday in the department’s headquarters to protest LePage’s order to take down the mural.
One artist at the rally suggested that people form a human chain to block its removal. When a reporter from WCSH-TV (Channel 6) asked LePage what he would do if that happened, he replied, “I’d laugh at them, the idiots. That’s what I would do. Come on! Get over yourselves!”
The Department of Labor leases space for its headquarters in a privately owned building on Commerce Drive in Augusta. Bennett said the company’s facilities staff removed the 11-panel mural during one of its regular workdays, so there was no cost to taxpayers.
Judy Taylor of Tremont received a $60,000 commission in 2008 to create the mural for the department’s new administrative office. The money was a portion of the federal funds that were earmarked for the space.
Taylor said she was discouraged when she heard that the mural had been removed. She said she has been so upset and distracted that she hasn’t been able to work for nearly a week.
Donald Pickett, 76, who was a maintenance foreman in the Maine Department of Transportation, said he and his wife drove from Pittston to Augusta on Monday because they wanted to see the mural before it was taken down.
Now, they said, they are worried about its condition.
“It belongs to us,” Pickett said. “We’d like to know where it is.”
MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: [email protected]