Bessire responds to mural uproar

UPDATE: A public forum entitled, “Whose Art Is It?”,  is set for Friday, April 8, noon-1:30 pm, Portland Museum of Art.

     “A state long renowned as the home of Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Louise Nevelson, Alex Katz, and so many other artists that provide the very way Americans look at their land and its people today,(March 31, 2011)  finds its reputation as a place of storied creativity tarnished.

     The decision to remove The Maine Labor Mural Cycle from the headquarters of the Department of Labor not only contravenes the thoughtful process by which public art is selected in Maine, but, more importantly, has made our state the focus of unwanted national attention as an environment unfriendly to labor and art.

     The historical role of Maine as muse and refuge for generations of Americans is called into question by this single action. I call on Governor Paul LePage to return the mural to public view in the Department of Labor as a means of signaling to the country that our state is affirming of the creative economy that is not only the foundation of the tourist industry, but also of the ecumenical values of Maine that are an instrumental part of American culture.”

By Mark H. C. Bessire, Director, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine  –  – 207.775.6148


Judy Taylor, The Maine Labor Mural Cycle (detail), 2008. Courtesy of the artist. Photo courtesy of James Imbrogno/


Judy Taylor: Statement on the Maine Labor Mural March 30, 2011

      “As the artist who created the mural, people ask me how I feel about what’s happening and what I would like to see done. Like many of the people of Maine, I want to see the mural displayed publicly as it was originally intended. I want people to see it and connect to Maine’s labor history. The purpose of the mural is historical, the artistic intent to honor. It belongs to the people of Maine and needs to be accessible to them.

     Painting the mural is what I have trained my entire life to do. The theme of figure and context is what I set out to chronicle in my career as an artist. In fact, my first painting as a child was of my grandfather on his farm in Nebraska, in the context of his work and life. I loved seeing my grandparents work and followed my grandmother all over her farm and rode with my grandfather as he delivered oil around the state.

     I’ve always had a deep curiosity and passion for my family’s history as well as our nation’s history, so when in 2007 I learned that the Maine Arts Commission was requesting submissions for a commissioned piece of artwork detailing the history of labor in Maine, I immediately entered the competition.

      After a competitive process, I was awarded the commission and commenced upon a year of research, preparation of archival materials, sketches of stories in context based on historical fact and painting the panels. I added one personal piece which was to include my mother and father as I had lost both of them the previous year. My father is the young Army officer and my mother the little girl in the Frances Perkins panel. My father served as a Forward Observer during the Korean War and was awarded a Bronze Star. He was a man who stood by every word he spoke, every letter he wrote. It was so heartbreaking to learn that this controversy may have started with an anonymous letter comparing this mural to a North Korean propaganda poster.

     Perhaps we should hang my father’s Bronze Star for his service in Korea in the now empty reception area of the Maine Department of Labor until the mural is returned, as a symbol of the importance of remembering our history, and not shuttering it away.” –


Published by on April 2011. Filed under Archives, Back Porch Section, Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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