AUGUSTA – The mural that Gov. Paul LePage had removed from the Maine Department of Labor’s headquarters is safely stored somewhere in the vast Central Maine Commerce Center, says Kevin Mattson, one of the building’s owners.
The Department of Labor is the largest tenant in the 311,000-square-foot building, which has about a dozen tenants. Mattson, a Democrat, said he doesn’t know the mural’s exact location.
“I know it’s secure in the property,” he said Wednesday. “I know it’s in there somewhere.”
He said the building’s facilities staff removed the mural last weekend at the request of the Leased Space Division of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services.
LePage has refused to disclose the mural’s location. When asked whether it is in the commerce center, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt said he would “neither confirm nor deny” the report.
LePage ordered the mural removed because he said some business owners had complained that it presented a one-sided view of Maine labor history.
The 11-panel, 36-foot-long mural was installed in 2008. It depicts historical moments such as the 1937 shoe mill strike in Lewiston-Auburn and Rosie the Riveter at Bath Iron Works.
The mural’s removal has angered many labor and arts groups, and the controversy continued to reverberate Wednesday.
Judy Taylor of Tremont, the artist who painted the mural, issued a written statement saying it “belongs to the people of Maine” and should be accessible to them. Taylor suggested that LePage replace the mural with the Bronze Star that her father earned in the Korean War.
She said it was heartbreaking to learn that LePage may have decided to remove the mural after getting an anonymous letter that said the mural was reminiscent of brainwashing tactics in communist North Korea.
Taylor’s father served in the Korean War as a forward observer. “He was a man who stood by every word he spoke,” she said in her statement. “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 did not respond to phone messages seeking further comment.
Also Wednesday, Don Tuski, president of the Maine College of Art, published an open letter that called the mural’s removal “an act of censorship.”
When it originally asked artists to submit proposals, the Department of Labor said it wanted a mural depicting the value and dignity of workers and their critical role in creating the wealth of the state and the nation, he said, and Taylor’s piece did just that. “Art serves as a mirror that reflects a moment in time,” Tuski wrote. “This mural captures a piece of history. Gov. LePage did not like what he saw. By removing the mural, he smashed that mirror — an attempt to rewrite history.”
Some of LePage’s critics are attacking him with humor.
Geoffrey Leighton, owner of Leighton Images, a video and multimedia production company in Durham, produced a video mocking LePage’s decision to remove the mural.
“I wanted to do something,” Leighton said of his video, which he posted on YouTube. “It is strange how few people understand what the labor movement has meant to workers in Maine.”
Leighton, 58, who has owned his production company for 21 years, is a Democrat but isn’t politically active.
He said he worked for two days to produce the video, which alters the mural to include the faces of some of the nation’s most notorious capitalists, including Ken Lay, known for the scandal that led to the downfall of Enron Corp., and Henry Clay Frick, a ruthless industrialist who used violence to break strikes. Frick played a major role in the formation of U.S. Steel.
The Maine Democratic Party is taking full advantage of the controversy. Its website, wwww.mainedems.org, features every one of the mural’s 11 panels.
“This issue has galvanized a lot of people,” said Ben Grant, the party’s chairman.
Demeritt said he doesn’t have a problem with the way the Democratic Party is displaying the mural on its website. He said LePage’s only issue is that it shouldn’t be on display in the Department of Labor because it gives businesspeople the impression that they won’t be treated fairly there.
One of the department’s jobs is to hear appeals on whether workers should receive unemployment benefits.
In 2010, employees won 64 percent of the time in cases in which they were fired because of alleged misconduct, Demeritt said.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes contributed to this report.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be reached at 699-6261 or: [email protected]