In response to Gov. Paul LePage’s order to remove a 36-foot mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the lobby of the Department of Labor, artists and labor historians will hold a press conference at noon Friday, March 25, in front of the mural at the Department of Labor, 45 Commerce Drive.

Rob Shetterly, artist, creator of the series Americans Who Tell the Truth, and president of the Maine Union of Visual Artists, said in a press release that the purpose of the press conference is to educate the public about why historical art is essential to preserve Maine history, and why the attempt to remove historical art in a politicized environment is a critical issue for all Mainers.

The mural was erected in 2008 using a federal grant, following a jury selection by the Maine Arts Commission

Mural artist Judy Taylor (judytaylorstudio.com/mural1.html), who teaches art classes at All Saints Catholic School in Bangor, said Tuesday that her piece was not meant to be political, but simply a depiction of Maine’s labor history.

“It is telling true history,” said Shetterly. “It has no political spin or ideology. It’s not anti-business. It’s about how workers have organized to defend their dignity and rights. It is important for Mainers to see a true representations of their history. The foundation of democracy rests on that.”

The 11-panel piece depicts several moments, including the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston, “Rosie the Riveter” at Bath Iron Works, and the paper mill workers’ strike of 1986 in Jay.

Taylor said people, including businesspeople who came to her studio, reacted positively to the mural. “At one point, maybe their grandmother or their grandfather had worked in the mills, so they had a very moving, emotional reaction to the mural,” she said. “It touched them in a way because there was this ancestral legacy there.”

According to Taylor, the idea for the panels came from Charles Scontras, a labor historian at the University of Maine.

At in a 2010 Labor Day presentation, Scontras said, “The first Labor Day observance in Maine, held Aug. 31, 1886, in Portland, was more a protest by 3,000 organized workers against often brutal, abusive employment conditions pervasive through many of the nation’s manufacturing and trades industries.”

Their demands were for the end of child labor, eight-hour shifts, and health and safety legislation, which still protect employees today.

“Although Maine has shifted from a manufacturing base to a service economy, many of our parents and grandparents worked in mills, canneries shoe and cloth manufacturing. This history deserves to be honored, not removed,” said Shetterly.

According to a Thursday morning, March 24, press release, a list of speakers had not yet been finalized. Gov. LePage has been invited to speak.

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