AUGUSTA, Maine — A Deer Isle artist angered by Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to remove a labor-themed mural from a state building is making his own political statement by yanking his artwork from the State House.
Other artists upset with the administration’s decision, meanwhile, are planning a media event on Friday at the Maine Department of Labor building where the mural hangs. And a Maine Arts Commission official said her office has been flooded with calls and emails.
“People are very upset for a myriad of reasons,” said Donna McNeil, director of the Maine Arts Commission, which helps place art in some public spaces.
Artist Vaino Kola said he contacted the commission on Thursday to request that five of his works — one painting and four etchings — be removed from offices in the capitol building.
Kola said he viewed the LePage administration’s decision to take down an 11-panel mural depicting the history of Maine’s labor movement from the Department of Labor lobby as a snub against the artist and unions.
“It definitely is a slight to the artist that obviously spent a lot of time on this,” Kola said. “I don’t know this for a fact, but judging by everything LePage has done so far, I think he is very much opposed to unions and sees this work as one-sided.”
The governor has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he is not anti-union and that he fully supporters any worker’s right to organize. But administration officials argue that the 36-foot-long mural that has hung in the building’s lobby since 2008 only represents the point of view of workers, not employers.
Administration officials said they received “a handful” of complaints from people uncomfortable with the mural, which depicts scenes of factory workers, strikers, child laborers and several notable figures in Maine’s labor history. The administration is currently seeking another home for the mural in a public place.
But the issue has sparked protests from union members and artists.
Kola, whose nonpolitical paintings and etchings are currently displayed in the Senate Republican offices, said he believes the mural is historical work that depicts important events in the state’s labor movement that people should know about.
“The history is a lot worse than the mural depicts,” he said.
McNeil estimated that she and other arts commission staff have received at least 50 calls and 50 emails from people concerned about the mural decision. The primary concern cited by those who call or write is censorship, she said.
As an agency within the executive branch of state government, the commission and its staff are not weighing in on the mural controversy.
“We have gotten lots and lots of calls from our constituents and we have communicated that to the governor’s office,” she said.