March 24, 2011

Defenders of labor mural headed to Augusta

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

Artists, historians and workers are expected to converge in Augusta Friday for two separate events to protest the planned removal of a historical mural from the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor.

The 36-foot, 11-panel mural depicts Maine’s labor history, including child workers, a shoe maker strike in Lewiston, female shipbuilders and striking papermakers in Jay.

Gov. Paul LePage gave the order to remove the mural after complaints from constituents that it sends a one-sided, anti-employer message. He also ordered the renaming of conference rooms bearing the names of state and national labor leaders.

The move was loudly criticized by labor leaders and others who defended the mural as a non-political depiction of important Maine history.

On Friday at 9 a.m., a small group of Maine citizens and workers is scheduled to visit the Department of Labor Friday to call attention to Maine’s labor history and the mural. They also plan to hold a brief memorial service on the 100th anniversary of the New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 young women and was a catalyst for national social and labor reforms.

And at noon, artists and labor historians are scheduled to hold a news conference in front of the mural to protest its removal. Organizers said they want to explain why historical art is needed to preserve Maine history and why the attempt to remove historical art in a politicized environment is a critical issue.

Organizers of the event aren't part of a formal group but have gathered support on a Facebook page.

Rob Shetterly, president of the Maine Union of Visual Artists, is among those organizing the noon event.

Gov. LePage is among those invited to speak, organizers said.

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