June 25, 2018
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Labor mural advocates say they will ask Dems to push LePage on reinstating artwork

Larry Turner | BDN
Larry Turner | BDN
A portion of the Maine History Labor Mural, by Seal Cove artist Judy Taylor, as it appeared on the walls of the Department of Labor in Augusta before it was ordered removed by Gov. Paul LePage in March 2011.
By Mario Moretto, BDN Staff

BLUE HILL, Maine — After losing a case to reinstate the missing Maine Labor History Mural — first in U.S. District Court and again recently at the First Circuit Court of Appeals — advocates for the piece say they will seek help from the Democratic legislature in getting the piece displayed in public again.

Robert Shetterly, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at forcing LePage to reinstate the mural at the Labor Department, where LePage ordered the mural removed in 2011, said restoring the mural to its original hanging place would likely have to wait until LePage is out of office, but other public locations may be possible.

“We’ve now lost twice and I don’t think we’re going to appeal again,” Shetterly said. “But now that we have a Democratic legislature, we’re going to ask the attorney general or the legislature to make a writ or pass some kind of bill requesting the governor to reinstate the mural in some prominent public place.”

Shetterly specifically mentioned the Maine State Museum in Augusta or Portland City Hall as potential homes for the mural. LePage has maintained secrecy as to the mural’s current whereabouts.

He made his comments while introducing Judy Taylor, the Seal Cove artist commissioned by the Labor Department to create the mural in 2007, who gave a presentation on the piece and the surrounding controversy Thursday night at the Blue Hill Public Library.

Taylor spent most of the lecture describing the 11 panels that make up the mural. Each depicts a different piece of Maine’s labor history — an apprentice and shoemaker in one scene, child laborers at a garment factory in another, loggers, the 1937 shoemaker strike in Lewiston-Auburn, and so on.

LePage gave several reasons for removing the mural. One of those was an anonymous letter he claimed to have received, in which a businessman complained about the mural and compared it to North Korean propaganda.

Central to Taylor’s talk was an unspoken thesis, a defense of the piece and a repudiation of propaganda claim. Her work was representation of Maine’s history, she said, a thoroughly researched project informed by primary documents and the assistance of a labor historian. Her piece was an accurate representation of Maine’ history, she said, not propaganda.

Each panel features several images in the background, recreations of historical photos from different industrial sectors — everything from blueberry rakers and corn canners to textile mill workers and fishermen.

“I wanted this to be an educational piece,” she told the crowd of about a dozen. “I was really geared toward having something teachers would want to bring field trips to.”

Taylor also criticized the argument cited by the U.S. District court affirming LePage’s right to remove the mural. LePage’s actions, the court ruled, constitute “government speech,” a doctrine in constitutional law that says government is entitled to express a point of view.

“To me, that’s a slippery slope,” she said. “There will always be someone who doesn’t like something. But there’s a process for putting work up, and there should be a process for taking the work down.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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