It was a sad day for women’s history, labor history and the ongoing struggle for the right to be free of sexual harassment in the workplace. The excellent mural by Gordon Carlisle that had just been installed prominently on Route 201 in Skowhegan was hastily taken down and moved to an alley last week after building owner Skowhegan Savings Bank requested it.

The bank was reportedly offended by the triptych panel depicting young women on strike in 1907. In part, the women were striking for their coworker Mamie Bilodeau, 17, who had been fired after complaining of sexual harassment by the man who was her manager.

The Wesserunsett Arts Council took the path of least resistance in deference to a major patron of their downtown mural commission. This is not surprising, but it is a little sad. Real art has often kowtowed to power out of necessity. But recall that Mexican muralist Diego Rivera refused to remove parts of his historical fresco commissioned by the Rockefeller Center in 1937, and Rockefeller had it destroyed.

The labor shortage caused by the pandemic has seen a rebirth of union organizing all over the nation, and it would have been quite educational for young workers in Skowhegan to see Carlisle’s painting of women striking for better working conditions. Let’s hope today’s workers can find their way to that alley.

Lisa Savage

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