March 29, 2011

Mural 'protected' in secret location

LePage officials won't say where labor-themed art is now

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Donald and Patricia Pickett visited the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor on Monday and expected to see the now-famous mural depicting Maine's labor history.

click image to enlarge

Maine Department of Labor employee Adam Fisher stands in the lobby Monday where murals that adorned the walls were removed from the agency's Augusta headquarters over the weekend.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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But all they saw was a blank wall.

Staffers told the elderly couple from Pittston that the mural had been removed over the weekend.

"We asked, "Where is it?" recalled Donald Pickett. "They said, 'We don't know.'"

Indeed, the whereabouts of the mural is a secret.

Gov. Paul LePage's press secretary Adrienne Bennett said there has been so much publicity surrounding the mural that the administration has decided to safeguard it by not disclosing its storage location.

"We are protecting the mural right now," she said.

She said the mural will be stored until the governor develops a plan for where to put it. She said LePage is now waiting to hear if the Portland City Council wants to it. That now seems unlikely.

The City Council was scheduled to take up the issue on April 4, but Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones on Monday said the council is postponing a discussion on the issue, possibly indefinitely.

Mavodones and four other councilors, Kevin Donohue, Dory Waxman, John Anton and David Marshall on Monday all expressed little enthusiasm for the idea of putting the mural on the second floor of City Hall.

Marshall, who was initially supportive, said he has changed his mind after realizing that the mural would be a "Trojan horse" because the city would be facilitating the removal of the piece, something he strongly opposes.

Marshall, who was initially supportive, said he has changed his mind after realizing that the mural would be a "Trojan horse" because the city would be facilitating the removal of the piece, something he strongly opposes.

Rep. Diane Russell-D-Portland, said the Portland officials shouldn't make it easy for the governor to remove the mural.

"If the governor wants the mural down, let him deal with the consequences," she said. The Labor Department leases space in a privately owned building on Commerce Drive.

Bennett said the company's facilities staff removed the 11-panel mural during the workers' normal workday so there was no cost to taxpayers.

LePage's decision to remove the mural has angered labor groups and artists and gained attention in the national media. While some conservative talk show hosts have praised LePage, liberal comedians, such as Jon Stewart of the "The Daily Show," have mocked him.

The New York Times on Monday published an editorial that said LePage has "stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs' chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments." Several hundred people on Friday attended a rally in the Labor Department to protest LePage's order to take down the mural.

One artist at the rally had suggested that people form a human chain to block its removal. When a reporter from WCSH asked LePage what he would do if that happened, Lepage replied, "I'd laugh at them, the idiots. That's what I would do. Come on! Get over yourselves!"

The artist, Judy Taylor of Tremont, received a $60,000 commission in 2008 to create the mural for the Labor Department's new administrative office. Funding came from a portion of the federal funds earmarked for the new space.

Taylor said she was discouraged when she heard the mural was removed. She said she has been so upset and distracted that she hasn't been able to work for nearly a week.

The Pickett's say they are worried about its condition.

"It belongs to us," Donald Pickett said. "We'd like to know where it is."


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