Judy Taylor, an artist who lives in Tremont and has her studio and gallery there, painted the Department of Labor mural that is now the subject of contention.

Earlier this week, Gov. Paul LePage ordered the removal of the 36-foot mural, which is located in the agency’s lobby.

A March 24 press release from artists Rob Shetterly, Natasha Mayers and Joan Braun said that Maine artists and labor historians will hold a press conference at the Department of Labor, in front of the mural, on Friday, March 25 at noon.

In June 2008, The Bar Harbor Times wrote about the mural, which was commissioned to depict the history of labor in Maine from the 18th to the 21st century. At that time, Taylor said she did a considerable amount of research for the commission.

In the story, Taylor said that she used the faces and forms of real people in her life, who were depicted “standing shoulder to shoulder with, or taking on the roles of real historical figures. The woebegone children with bandaged fingers and frowning faces in her child labor panel are the children of her friends and neighbors. The women in her textile mill, holding handkerchiefs to their faces to protect themselves from the lint and dust are women in her life, including her grandmother as a young woman.”

“In one panel, peavey-wielding loggers wrestle a tree into a river. In another, angry shoe factory workers go on strike,” the story said. “The chief of police who called out the National Guard to bust the strike looms in the background as a black and white photo….

“The war years in her mural are represented by the women who went to work on the factory lines to replace their men who were fighting overseas. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who had Maine family connections, and was largely responsible for our child labor laws, is honored in a panel. Another panel depicts the 1987 yearlong strike at International Paper in Jay. A photo in the background of this panel is of a bearded and burly Roland Samson, a former paper mill worker who became a spokesperson and poet about the issues in that industry. Really one could spend hours in front of this mural deciphering and connecting all the images….

“In the final panel a generic worker-type passes his sledge- hammer to the next generation. The muscled arm and hammer in the scene forms an iconic image of the labor movement,” the story said.

In the story, Taylor said that she did not use her image in the mural, but did model hand and arm gestures on her own.

Taylor painted the mural at her studio, new at the time, on Route 102 in Seal Cove.

In a statement on her website, Taylor said she created the mural in response to a Call to Artists, sponsored by the Maine Arts Commission, in the summer of 2007.

“The call was to create an artwork depicting the ‘History of Labor in the State of Maine.’ After a reviewing process, I was selected to do the commission. Along the way, I met some wonderful, and dedicated people. I also got an excellent education in Maine history,” she wrote.

The 11-panel mural was painted on 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of specially prepared board. The panels were applied to adjoining walls in the Department of Labor reception area. In total, she said, the mural measures 36-feet in length, and is nearly 8-feet-tall.

In their press release, Shetterly, Mayers and Braun said 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.”

Shetterly is a Maine artist and president of the Maine Union of Visual Artists.

The mural was put up in 2008 and was funded by a federal grant, the release said. Taylor currently teaches art classes at All Saints Catholic School in Bangor.

In the release, she is reported as saying that her piece “was never meant to be political, but simply a depiction of Maine’s labor history.” Taylor said people had always reacted positively to the mural, even businesspeople who came to her studio.

“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 the release, Taylor said the idea for the panels came from Charles Scontras, a labor historian at the University of Maine.

Also according to the release, Scontras said at in a 2010 Labor Day presentation, “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 such things as the end of child labor, an eight hour shift, and health and safety legislation, which still protect employees today.

A list of speakers for the press conference has not yet been finalized. LePage has also been invited to speak, the release said.

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