The Bangor Daily News July 8, 2008
All images and content copyright 1998-2010: Judy Taylor Fine Art, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Mural shows off Maine's social history
by John Buell
Labor Day once marked the last big weekend of the tourist season. That season now extends well into the
fall, to the relief of many Maine businesses. The success of the season is often viewed as a commentary on
how well businesses and state government have marketed its rustic and rock-bound image. Yet Maine’s
achievements, even its success as a tourist destination, depend as much on its social history as on the
natural qualities it possesses.
This theme was elicited and clarified for me while viewing a stunning mural painted by Tremont artist Judy
Taylor. Taylor’s works have been exhibited not only in Maine but also across the country over the last 20
years. Recently she won a competitive commission from the Department of Labor to present a visual
montage of the history of labor in Maine. Her mural, along with her other artworks, is on display in her
Tremont gallery. The mural itself will be in her gallery until early August and will be installed in the new
Department of Labor building on Aug. 22.
Taylor collaborated informally with Maine’s pre-eminent labor historian, Charley Scontras of the Bureau of
Labor Education at the University of Maine. In personal communication with the artist (and which both have
generously shared with me) Scontras has highlighted what might serve as an overarching theme for the
mural: "Maine is a bit more than the stereotypical romantic images that have become commonplace and
marketed by our gift and souvenir shops, i.e., Down-East humor, lighthouses, lobster fishermen, general
stores with their pot bellied stoves and crackle barrels, its rock-bound seacoast, the rustic retreat for
frustrated urbanites, larger than life lumberjacks, etc. While these things do describe Maine, and I am glad
that they form part of our heritage, Maine was not Nirvana. The creative role of dissent, protest, conflict, and
the demand for social justice in the workplaces of the state, form an integral part of our historical legacy."
No single review can capture the subtlety and power of the mural, but themes in two panels were especially
salient for me. One portrays the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston, led by the CIO and up to that
time the largest labor dispute in Maine. Though workers lost, the mural reminds us of the potent forces in
play and fashioned by oppressive and contentious workplaces, including damaged and distraught children,
militant Franco-Americans, and crudely repressive police and shoe manufacturers. A separate box within this
panel portrays Catholic choirboys, whose innocence belies the ruthless arrogance of a local Catholic church
hierarchy that threatened to excommunicate women who supported the strike.
Nonetheless, labor in Maine has had many successes. The damaged children would soon see relief
through child labor legislation. A "Rosie the Riveter" panel portrays women in the Maine shipyards. The first
equal pay for equal work legislation was enacted in 1949 following the unprecedented contribution of women
to Maine’s shipyards.
Most intriguing is a panel of the future of labor in Maine. Left intentionally open ended in content, the young
man and woman portrayed as accepting the sledgehammer symbol of labor could well include many who
now work in Maine’s service and high tech industries. Those who are engaged in technical tasks that can be
digitized confront increasing threats of their jobs being outsourced. Workers who provide hands on services
must continually fight for fair wages, respect and responsibilities.
Maine’s labor movement has had a major impact on who works in our businesses and under what
conditions. The business community once regarded child labor laws as limiting their rights as
entrepreneurs. Without laws and norms protecting children’s health and educational needs, however, Maine
businesses would lack a work force able to meet many modern tourist needs and demands. One of the next
challenges for labor will surely not only be addressing the job security concerns of white-collar workers but
also recognizing and further enhancing the role that even front-line tourist workers must play if Maine is to
become a world-class tourist destination.
These are just a few of the themes that struck me as I gazed at this visually powerful mural, one that all
citizens interested in Maine labor’s role should check out.