A mural commissioned by the Maine Department of Labor to hang in its reception room at 45 Commerce Drive in Augusta, and removed by the building’s facilities crew last weekend at the request of Gov. Paul LePage, is reportedly under lock and key at the same building.

According to a March 30 interview on the MPBN radio program “Maine Things Considered,” and a story posted at 5:03 p.m. that evening at pressherald.com, the mural was moved by building staff, at no cost to the state. Building owner Kevin Mattson was quoted as saying the 11 panels commissioned in 2007 to portray Maine’s labor history are in a room in the Central Maine Commerce Center building where the department leases its office space.

Contract calls for artist input on relocation

Judy Taylor of Tremont, who completed the artwork depicting a variety of images of Maine’s labor movement and its workers’ history in 2008, was not present when the mural was taken off the walls for which it was designed, and moved to storage in what LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett referred to March 29 as “a secure storage location.”

Bennett said the $60,000 project was funded with $38,364 in federal Reed Act Funds and several smaller contributions from sources she listed as Rehabilitation Services, Labor Standards, Workforce Research and Information and Commissioner’s Office. The mural was commissioned when the department merged several offices into the location on Commerce Drive that houses a number of government offices, including those of the state police and fire marshal. Entry to the Department of Labor is through a separate doorway and down a long corridor.

Bennett said the amounts paid by each bureau were: “proportionate to their funding percentage of the department. This represents a mixture of federal and state funds.”

While funds for the commission came from several state and federal sources, the contract for the commission was the same one used for projects paid for under Maine’s Percent for Art law.

The contract describes the mural and states that it would consist of “10 panels depicting selected episodes in the history of Maine labor.” The contract recognizes that “the shift in scale from model to full scale required artistic adjustments,” and gave the artist the right to make minor aesthetic or structural changes.

“The permanent location of the work shall be: Department of Labor,” the contract states.

In addition to stating the artist reserves all rights under federal copyright law, the contract says the following about altering or moving the mural:

“The contracting agency agrees that it will not intentionally destroy or alter the work in any way whatsoever without prior consultation with the [Maine Arts] Commission and the artist.”

“The work will be placed in the location for which it was selected. The contracting agency [The Department of Labor] agrees that the artist and the Commission will be notified if, for any reason, the work has to be removed or moved to a new location. The artist and the Commission have the right to advise or consult with the contracting agency or its designee regarding this treatment of the work.”

“All communications and notices required or permitted under this agreement shall be in writing and shall be deemed sufficiently served if hand delivered or sent by certified First Class Mail to the Commission,” the contract says.

The agreement can only be modified if done so in writing and signed by all parties.

Artists, workers and sympathizers flock to Augusta

Approximately 250 people from all parts of the state crowded the hallway outside the lobby of the Department of Labor at noon Friday, March 25, in response to the initial decision by Gov. Paul LePage to remove the mural from that room’s walls.

The lobby door is marked by a plaque indicating it provides entry for those seeking the offices of Employment Services, Rehabilitation Services, Labor Standards, Unemployment Compensation administrative hearings and the Center for Workforce Research and Information.

The room appeared crowded as people filed in and out, about 20 at a time looking at the 11 panels that Taylor created in response to a request for proposals.

Speakers at the March 25 press conference, which was sponsored by the Union of Maine Visual Artists and the Maine AFL-CIO, included UMVA President Robert Shetterly and labor historian Charles Scontras, whom Taylor credited with helping her formulate the idea for the mural.

Shetterly said the mural was “a part of what tells Maine’s history, Maine people’s history, and Maine’s working history.”

“This picture gives us the courage to struggle for our own rights today,” he said.

While Shetterly and others at the podium outside the lobby spoke softly and could not always be heard above the crowd, the message they and others came to Augusta to deliver was loud and clear.

“Art stays, LePage goes,” some chanted.

Many of those gathered in the hallway outside the lobby carried paper signs with the names and ages of workers who perished March 25, 1911, in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, an event that has been called the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York. According to a 100th anniversary story in the March 25 edition of The New York Times, the fire “claimed the lives of 146 people, all but 23 of whom were young women. One of the landmark disasters in American history, it eventually inspired important shifts in the nation’s laws, particularly those protecting the rights of workers and the safety of buildings.”

One of those commemorating the fire as part of the protest in Augusta was Martha Clarke of Rockland, whose grandmother worked for Triangle.

“She wasn’t there that day,” Clarke said. “Thank goodness.”

“What kind of businesses is Maine trying to attract, that would not honor the work of [labor] organizers?” asked Mariah Williams of Liberty. “Without them, we would still have child labor, six-day, 12-hour workweeks, and no benefits.”

“Gov. LePage works for the citizens of Maine,” she said.

Tim Sullivan of Rockland said the governor was trying to divide the progressive community. Many at the Department of Labor Friday planned to attend hearings on a proposal to rescind a ban on the plastics additive bisphenol-A, another controversial decision LePage has made since taking office Jan. 5.

“We need to unite,” said Sullivan. “He’s not [acting like] governor of the people, but the governor of the big corporations.”

While many at the event were professional artists rallying, in part, to support one of their own, Sally and Don Merchant of South Thomaston said they were there as working Mainers.

“We’re labor,” said Sally Merchant. “What better place for a mural about labor than here.”

Future location in doubt

In a press release issued just after the event, LePage said he was seeking “artwork that depicts the cooperative relationship that exists between Maine’s job creators and the workers who power Maine’s economy.”

“Artists interested in participating should be willing to offer their artwork on loan to the state,” the press release said. “Appropriate submissions will be displayed in public spaces at the Maine Department of Labor’s administrative offices and in the lobbies of Career Centers throughout Maine. Photographs, paintings, sculptures and other forms of art will all be considered.”

LePage said the department needed to “serve and balance the interests of both employees and employers” and called for artwork that “celebrates the cooperation that exists in Maine’s workplaces.”

While the Governor’s Office issued a press release March 25 saying the mural would be loaned to the city of Portland, pending city council approval, a March 29 story by Kate Bucklin at theforecaster.net said that was not likely.

Bucklin’s story said a councilor originally open to the idea changed his mind after attending Friday’s rally. She reported Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, who originally proposed the loan, did so as an alternative to having the artwork put in storage.

“While it was previously reported that the mural would be subject to a City Council public hearing and vote April 4, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg confirmed this week the item would not appear on the council’s agenda,” Bucklin wrote.

Meanwhile, the website at wgme.com reported that Michelle Smalls of Brunswick has filed a Freedom of Information request with Gov. LePage’s office asking for the exact location of the mural, now that it is in storage.

Second rally planned

The organizers of the March 25 press conference have planned a second event, originally scheduled for Friday, April 1 and rescheduled, due to an expected storm, to take place at noon on Monday, April 4 in the Hall of Flags at the Statehouse in Augusta.

Gov. Paul Le Page’s seizure and hiding of a mural painted for the people of Maine is not merely presumptuous and disrespectful but also illegal and a breach of the state’s contract with artist Judy Taylor,” a press release said.

The April 4 rally is being sponsored by the Union of Maine Visual Artists; Veterans For Peace, Maine Chapter 001; Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.