Revisionist art history as Maine removes labor mural

BOSTON Tue Mar 29, 2011 6:02pm EDT

A mural image showing (left)A member of the IWW or ''Wobblies'' trying to organize the Maine woodsmen and The Textile Workers and a mural image depicting(right)Young women were often sent to the mills by their families, who could not, or would not support them. REUTERS/Judy Taylor/Handout

A mural image showing (left)A member of the IWW or ''Wobblies'' trying to organize the Maine woodsmen and The Textile Workers and a mural image depicting(right)Young women were often sent to the mills by their families, who could not, or would not support them.

Credit: Reuters/Judy Taylor/Handout

BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - Waves of criticism have followed the removal of a mural depicting workers' history in Maine, including the iconic "Rosie the Riveter," from government offices in the state capital Augusta.

Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, has said through spokesmen that he received complaints about the artwork in the Department of Labor offices from business owners because it was too pro-labor.

Also in the works are plans to rename conference rooms at the department building now named after labor leaders.

"The mural has been removed and is in storage awaiting relocation to a more appropriate venue," LePage's press secretary Adrienne Bennett said in a statement.

The deed was done, in secrecy, over the weekend.

The 36-foot-long (11-meter-long) work contains 11 panels with images including shoemakers, child labor, textile workers and strikers, as well as Frances Perkins, U.S. Labor Secretary and the first U.S. woman cabinet member.

The work was painted by Judy Taylor of Tremont, Maine, adjacent to Acadia National Park. Taylor was commissioned in 2007 and finished the nearly 8-foot-tall mural in 2008.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, waded into the fray on Tuesday in a sharply worded letter to LePage.

Perkins was a 1902 graduate of the elite women's college, and many alumnae and students are up in arms.

"We're obviously very concerned. This is a rewriting of history," Pasquerella told Reuters. The "outrageous" move poses questions about "trends in civil discourse and political discourse in this country," she said.

Pasqueralla wrote to LePage that she was "surprised to read that you were influenced by an anonymous fax comparing the 11-panel mural to North Korean political propaganda."

"The act of removing images commemorating Maine's history itself conjures thoughts of the rewriting of history prevalent in totalitarian regimes."

Another former U.S. labor secretary, Robert Reich, has also gone on the offense.

"The governor's spokesman explains that the mural and the conference-room names were 'not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals,'" Reich, wrote on his blog. "Are we still in America?"

Rosie the Riveter, a worker at the Bath Iron Works who inspired the mural's ninth panel, is one of the United States' cultural and feminist icons, representing millions of women who worked in munitions plants during World War Two.

LePage spokeswoman Bennett told local media that there has been so much publicity surrounding the mural that its storage location is being kept a secret.

Dozens of artists and sympathizers protested in Augusta on Friday against the mural's removal and plan another demonstration on April 1.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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