AUGUSTA — The controversy over the removal of a labor-themed mural from the Department of Labor’s headquarters continued Tuesday as more groups weighed in on Gov. Paul LePage’s decision, and a group of artists announced plans for another protest.
Joan Braun, an artist from Weld who is helping to organize Friday’s protest by the Union of Maine Visual Artists, said she believes LePage violated a contract between the state and the artist, Judy Taylor, when he had the mural removed last weekend.
The administration disagreed.
“This issue was looked at by our attorneys,” said LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett. “We do not feel it was a breach.”
Two parts of the contract signed in 2007 apply to moving or altering the mural. One says the contracting agency, in this case the Department of Labor, “agrees that the artist and the (Maine Arts) Commission will be notified if, for any reason, the work has to be removed or moved to a new location.”
The contract also says the state will “not intentionally destroy or alter the work in any way whatsoever without prior consultation with the commission and the artist.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but even to the layman, that’s pretty clear,” Braun said.
A memo from acting Labor Commissioner Laura Boyett, made public last week, informed the department’s staff that the mural would be removed because the administration viewed it as biased against business.
The decision sparked an outcry and drew national attention. On Friday, 200 people turned out at the department’s headquarters to protest the plan to remove of the mural.
Over the weekend, LePage had workers take down the 11-panel, 36-foot-long piece and put it in a secret location.
Bennett said the administration isn’t disclosing the location because it wants to protect the work. On Tuesday, the governor’s office would say only that it is “in storage.”
Braun and others are questioning whether the mural was handled properly, whether it was damaged, and whether it is in a climate-controlled environment that is appropriate for artwork.
Michelle Small, a member of the state’s Freedom of Information Coalition, told WMTW-TV on Tuesday that she has filed a Freedom of Access Act request to find out where the mural is being stored, according to the station’s website.
Small told the station that “it’s ridiculous that the governor’s office refuses to disclose” the mural’s location.
Also Tuesday, the board of directors of Museum L-A in Lewiston met to consider whether it would display the mural, according to a news release from the museum.
“The board reiterated its position that the mural should remain at the Department of Labor,” Executive Director Rachel Desgrosseilliers said in a prepared statement. “However, it affirmed that the museum is willing to accept a loan of the mural if all legal questions and contingencies are addressed satisfactorily.”
The Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle joined the groups that are upset by the mural’s removal. One of the panels shows Perkins, the nation’s longest-serving secretary of labor and the first woman in the U.S. Cabinet, with workers who benefited from child labor laws and other measures, the center said in a news release.
“Removing this artwork is an attempt to erase the significance of Frances Perkins and the heroic struggles of Maine workers,” said Barbara Burt, executive director of the center. “We believe that the mural should be returned to the place for which it was specifically created, at the Department of Labor.”
In Massachusetts, the president of Mount Holyoke College sent a scathing letter to LePage on Tuesday, saying she has “grave concerns” about the decision to remove the mural. Perkins was a 1902 graduate of Mount Holyoke.
College President Lynn Pasquarella said, in a letter faxed to LePage’s office, that “I was particularly surprised to read that you were influenced by an anonymous fax comparing the 11-panel mural to North Korean political propaganda, because the act of removing images commemorating Maine’s history itself conjures thoughts of rewriting history prevalent in totalitarian regimes.”
Taylor created and installed the work, which was unveiled in August 2008. The state used $60,000 in federal funds earmarked for upgrades to the building to pay for the mural.
Although there has been speculation about where the mural will end up, Braun said she will accept nothing short of its return to the lobby at the Department of Labor.
“The best outcome is, the mural will be reinstated carefully, thoughtfully, to the place it was commissioned for,” she said. “It absolutely belongs no place else.”
MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]