The Kennebec Journal August 23, 2008
All images and content copyright 1998-2010: Judy Taylor Fine Art, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Labor of Love
by Craig Crosby
AUGUSTA -- When the Maine Department of Labor consolidated its offices at the modern Commerce Drive
building last year, there was little to remind department employees of their heritage.
"It didn't have the heart some of our falling-down buildings have had," Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said.
Her search to replace that heart ended Friday when Tremont artist Judy Taylor unveiled her Maine labor history
mural at the administrative offices.
The 11-panel oil-on-board mural depicts workers in Maine's traditional industries and trades, from early
workshops and fisheries to manufacturing.
Much of the work depicts scenes of workers' struggle to unionize.
"The Maine Labor History Mural celebrates workers in our economy and honors the struggles and achievements
of those who worked so hard to ensure protections," Fortman said. "Those laws are rooted in the lives and the
challenges and struggles of those that went before us.
"This is truly something that will inspire me every day I walk into this building."
The mural cost $60,000 and was paid for, in part, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The rest of the money came from selling on e-Bay three Persian rugs that had been in Fortman's previous office.
As much as the murals honor the workers depicted, the project as a whole pays tribute to Maine current workers,
"It supports the creative artists in Maine and recognizes the value of their work as well," she said.
Taylor worked with professor Charles Scontras of the University of Maine Bureau of Labor Education to select
historic scenes, such as the shoeworker strike in Lewiston, the wartime contributions of women and shipbuilders
and striking papermakers in Jay.
"It was really quite an emotional piece to do," Taylor told a group of more than 50 friends and Department of Labor
employees during Friday's unveiling. "I hope I translated that into the mural."
The process began last year with a request for proposals from artists around the state. Taylor was one of three
"It was pretty obvious from the get-go that people were squarely behind Judy's work," said Donna McNeil, director
of the Maine Art's Commission.
Scontras said he felt as if he could speak to the people in the murals. If they could speak, he said the 1880s
workers depicted in the mural would say they want a department of labor to represent them and to help alleviate
their hardships at work.
"If only some of those pioneers that wanted a department of labor were still around," Scontras said. "The history
books have generally ignored the working men, women and children of the state."
The department has already started looking for ways to expand the murals beyond the office building.
"I feel responsibility to take everything we've learned and get it out to the public," Fortman said.