March 24, 2011

LePage to Department of Labor:
Lobby mural must go

Coaxed by 'A Secret Admirer,' the governor orders the removal of artwork depicting the state's labor history – and finds himself again at the center of controversy.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

One panel of Tremont artist Judy Taylor’s Labor History Mural features  child laborers. The 11-panel mural located in the Department of Labor’s lobby has a fate unknown after Gov. Paul LePage ordered
click image to enlarge

One panel of Tremont artist Judy Taylor’s Labor History Mural features child laborers. The 11-panel mural located in the Department of Labor’s lobby has a fate unknown after Gov. Paul LePage ordered it removed.

File photo by Joe Phelan

Paul LePage
click image to enlarge

Gov. LePage

Additional Photos Below

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Four rooms are named after women, including Marion Martin, the state labor commissioner from 1947 to 1972 who is credited with forming the National Federation of Republican Women; and Frances Perkins, secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet post.

Rooms also are named after Charles Scontras, a longtime University of Maine professor and a leading authority on Maine labor history, and William Looney, a Republican state legislator from Portland who helped pass child labor laws in the late 1800s.

In the memo, Boyett makes it clear to staffers that while they are awaiting a permanent labor commissioner, she wants the department to move ahead with changes.

"We have received feedback that the administration building is not perceived as equally receptive to both businesses and workers -- primarily because of the nature of the mural in the lobby and the names of our conference rooms," she wrote. "Whether or not the perception is valid is not really at issue and therefore, not open to debate."

She asks workers to suggest names for the conference rooms by April 5 and indicates there will be "a small prize" for anyone who comes up with a new name. Boyett said that replacing the mural with a neutral paint and renaming the conference rooms after mountains in Maine would be appropriate.

The story generated heavy Web traffic Wednesday, including hundreds of comments on MaineToday Media's websites.

"When will this governor, this state, this nation get it?" wrote SidneyBob. "Without labor there'd be no business. Without business there'd be no labor. They're in this together. WE'RE in this together. Enough rancor, partisan politics, demonizing, taking sides ... Divided we fall -- and boy are we falling fast -- as a state and as a nation."

On the other side, someone named David supported LePage's decision.

"Go Gov. Lepage!!! Finally someone who will take on the liberal/democrat/socialist/communityist Left that is taking over Maine!!!"

The mural was unveiled in August 2008, following the consolidation of five offices in the Augusta area and one in Lewiston to a central location on Commerce Drive in Augusta.

According to information released at the time, the state used $60,000 in federal funds to pay for the mural. LePage said officials are looking for museums in Maine that might be interested in displaying it.

Judy Taylor of Tremont, the artist who created and installed the work, was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. Her husband said they had been barraged by media calls, including one from The New York Times.

She told the Lewiston Sun Journal on Tuesday that she hadn't heard any negative feedback about the mural from businesses.

"There was never any intention to be pro-labor or anti-labor," she said. "It was a pure depiction of the facts."

Scontras, the University of Maine professor, worked closely with Taylor to help create the mural. He said he finds it surprising that LePage, a Franco-American, would remove images that depict the workers who once were the "spine" of the state's economy.

"He's erasing a couple hundred years of history," Scontras said. "I can't imagine a governor who has the audacity to proceed this way when he can't even win a runoff election."

Scontras was referring to LePage's victory in November with 38 percent of the vote.

In a statement released Wednesday, Maine AFL-CIO President Don Berry described the removal of the mural as "political payback, the opposite of putting people first."

"It's a spiteful, mean-spirited move by the governor that does nothing to create jobs or improve the Maine economy," he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Mural panels 1 through 4.

Imbrogno Photography photo courtesy of Judy Taylor Studio

click image to enlarge

Mural panels 5 through 8

Imbrogno Photography photo courtesy of Judy Taylor Studio

click image to enlarge

Mural panels 9 through 11

Imbrogno Photography photo courtesy of Judy Taylor Studio



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