PORTLAND DAILY SUN
Mayor: Proposal to hang mural at City Hall 'on hold'
By Stacey May
Mar 29, 2011 12:00 am
Labor mural removed from state office building
Last Friday, state Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, predicted somewhat ominously that the newly controversial labor-themed mural hanging at the Department of Labor in Augusta might be gone when the building re-opened Monday.
Turns out he was right.
The mural depicting images from Maine's labor history, which hung relatively unnoticed in the building's lobby for three years before being targeted for removal by Gov. Paul LePage, was nowhere to be found Monday.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokesperson for LePage, confirmed that the artwork was taken down, just days after she assured this reporter that the mural would remain on display until a new home was found.
"The administration feels that the action taken this weekend was appropriate, and that's all we are releasing at this time," Bennett said Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, LePage's proposal to "loan" the 36-foot mural to Portland has been met with growing skepticism. At least three city councilors expressed opposition to the plan, offered Friday as a sort of compromise to keep the artwork in public view.
"I believe that the mural is the property of the state and should remain with the state," said Councilor John Anton. "I think the city and the state together face several common economic challenges and our time would be better spent discussing those."
Councilor Dave Marshall on Monday likened the state's loan offer to a "Trojan horse."
"The mural should stay as the property of the state and be properly displayed in the Department of Labor," said Marshall, who attended rallies on Friday in Augusta by artists and workers in support of the artwork.
Councilor Kevin Donoghue said he will “resist the impulse to accept the mural” without “prior assurance that its home is at the Department of Labor.”
“I would prefer that Governor LePage find the humility to reconsider what was clearly an impulsive decision. We all get to make mistakes,” Donoghue added.
Mayor Nick Mavodones on Monday said there was no space on the April 4 council agenda to hold a public hearing on the mural offer. And with the budget review set to dominate council time for the next eight weeks, he wasn't sure when the matter would come up, or if any councilor would even sponsor it.
"I think now it's all on hold," the Mayor said.
LePage made international headlines for his decision last week to remove the mural, which in 11 panels portrays noteworthy images from Maine's labor history. It was created three years ago by Judy Taylor, of Tremont, after she won a $60,000 federal grant.
Taylor told the New York Times last week that the mural represents historical fact and is not intended to be political. Slides include images of former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, women shipbuilders during World War II, the first Labor Day celebration, and a 1986 strike at the International Paper plant in Jay.
Bennett, the LePage press secretary, said state workers placed the mural in a "secure storage location" this weekend, but wouldn't say where that was.
"We are not disclosing that location for the protection of the mural," she said.
Ben Chipman, the first-term state representative who was helping develop the deal to bring the artwork to Portland late last week, said he was "upset and frustrated" that LePage took it down so soon.
"I feared this might happen," he said yesterday. "I hoped it wouldn't, but I am upset that it has."
He said the mural's whereabouts was a mystery, even to him and other state legislators. "Nobody seems to know were it is, and the history of labor in Maine, as depicted in the mural, has been hidden from us."
Marshall, as an artist who has painted numerous murals over the years, said he was offended that Taylor's art had become a political football. He noted that the piece did not engender opposition when it was commissioned three years ago by the previous administration, and worried its removal would set a bad precedent in Augusta.
Still, he predicted all the media attention on the piece could bring a silver lining.
LePage’s actions “have only made the artwork far more powerful and have made the artwork famous,” Marshall said.
Copyright 2011, The Portland Daily Sun - Portland's Daily Newspaper - One Longfellow Square, Suite 202, Portland, ME 04102 - (207) 699-5801