June 20, 2018
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Where is the Labor mural, and what if there were clues?

James Imbrogno | AP
James Imbrogno | AP
The controversial mural by Judy Taylor that hangs on the wall of the Labor Department's lobby in Augusta depicts the 1973 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston, a "Rosie the Riveter" image at Bath Iron Works, the paper mill workers' strike of 1986 in Jay, and other moments in Maine labor history. Maine Gov. Paul LePage claims the mural sends the wrong message and it should be removed, prompting an outcry from labor advocates.

The leaves are down, and the snowmobile trails aren’t ready. How do we attract tourists to Maine in November? Let’s offer a “Labor Mural Scavenger Hunt” lottery game.

We’re being facetious, but please play along. This isn’t meant to disrespect mural artist Judy Taylor or dismiss any of the free-speech arguments associated with ongoing legal proceedings related to Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to remove the mural from the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor office in March 2011.

Let’s use what Deputy Attorney General Paul Stern labeled “the most famous art in the state of Maine” to promote more art and market the state to the cultural tourism crowd.

The LePage administration has declined to disclose the mural ’s current whereabouts, but it could offer clues placed at strategic locations. Players would pay to scour the Maine landscape in search of the hints as to the mural’s hiding place.

The mural consists of 11 panels, so it makes sense to hide clues at 11 destinations throughout Maine. Here are a few suggestions:

• Given Gov. Paul LePage’s apparent desire to place as much distance as possible between himself and the mural, it would be appropriate to hide a clue somewhere among the scale models of the sun, planets and satellites along Route 1 in Aroostook County.

• The drama associated with the mural’s removal and LePage’s past service as mayor of Waterville make the Waterville Opera House a logical place.

• Somehow Screw Auger Falls in Grafton Notch State Park seems aptly named.

• While waiting for LePage to sign the 2010 voter-approved bond for infrastructure upgrades at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority could stash a clue in one of the many buildings awaiting civilian reuse there.

• The former railway freight shed in Bath, which historic preservation buffs hope to save as a community gathering place and a workshop to create a replica of the first ship built by European settlers in Maine, stands within walking distance of the headquarters of one of the state’s most powerful unions, Local S6 of the Machinists union at Bath Iron Works.

• Burying a clue in a field of lupines along the midcoast would pay proper homage to Barbara Cooney’s “Miss Rumphius.” Hiding one on Mount Katahdin would give visitors with a literary bent a taste for what Donn Fendler felt when he was lost on a mountain in Maine.

• Placing a clue in a field outside the Olson House in Cushing might allow scavenger hunters to re-enact their own version of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.”

• Hiding a clue in a bottle at Maine’s coast would simultaneously show off the state’s beaches and highlight the local film industry by summoning memories of the 1999 “ Message in a Bottle.”

• Sticking a clue in an earmuff on Chester Greenwood Day this Dec. 1 in Farmington might prevent scavenger hunters from hearing harsh words exchanged by disputants in the mural controversy. At the very least, it would serve the dual purpose of paying tribute to a Maine inventor and warming one’s outer lobes.

Instead of listening to Maine Office of Tourism radio advertisements touting the state’s attractions between innings of Boston Red Sox broadcasts, tourists would be here, visiting Maine’s cultural sites and spending their money, while engaged in a local version of the “Amazing Race.” They could hear how Mainers really talk — unlike the fraudulent “ Down East Sweden” accents perpetrated by Bill Hader and Fred Armisen in a recent Saturday Night Live skit.

OK, we’re being silly. But hasn’t an air of silliness tinged this whole mural removal controversy since the beginning?

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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