PORTLAND, Maine — Artist Judy Taylor said she wanted her mural depicting Maine’s labor history to be seen and to be used to educate the public. Thanks to the furor over its removal by Gov. Paul LePage, the 36-foot mural has been seen by more people and has spurred more discussion than she could have envisioned.
The artist from Mount Desert Island acknowledged the irony Friday after a panel discussion at the Portland Museum of Art that focused on public art and the removal of her mural from the Labor Department building in Augusta.
Taylor described a couple of chaotic weeks that have bordered on overwhelming. During that time, her artwork was removed from the Maine Department of Labor building, causing a national uproar. The U.S. Labor Department demanded that federal money used to create the mural should be returned. A federal lawsuit was filed.
On Friday, even as she spoke at the museum, lawyers were asking a federal judge to impose a temporary restraining order aimed at restoring the mural to its original location.
Ray Richardson, a conservative radio talk show host, said during the panel discussion that LePage told him it would take a court order to restore the mural. Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said Friday she couldn’t confirm the conversation because LePage remained in Jamaica on vacation.
“It’s almost like I’m in a ‘Seinfeld’ episode,” Taylor quipped.
Taylor told a packed auditorium at the museum that she spent a year researching and creating the mural, which consists of 11 panels, each 7 feet tall.
Taylor researched all of the themes: labor apprentices, textile mills, child labor, loggers, Rosie the Riveter, union secret ballots, the 1937 shoe strike, 1986 paper mill strike, and New Deal-era U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member, whose parents were from Maine.
She said she didn’t intend for the mural to make a political statement.
“Our wish was that it become an educational tool, something that students from all over the country, historians and artists, would have access to the mural,” she said.
She said she likes the fact that the mural’s discussion has spurred a discussion of public art. But she also has a personal goal that it be removed from storage and displayed once again.
Many people want it restored to its original location, but Taylor isn’t as picky.
“As a personal outcome, I’d like for the mural to be able to be viewed again,” she said.