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Artist labors on epic work

by Robert Levin

An extensive, 10-panel mural by Tremont artist Judy Taylor will soon grace the lobby of the new Maine
Department of Labor headquarters in Augusta. The 7-foot-high, 35-foot-long painting, which depicts the
history of organized labor in Maine, was commissioned by the department and has been in the making for
the past year.
Ms. Taylor has fashioned all 10 panels in her Tremont studio. Once the finishing touches are applied to the
last one, they will be trucked down to Augusta and permanently mounted in the labor department’s
headquarters.
The labor commissioner’s office is eagerly awaiting the work, and has tentatively set an open house and
unveiling for Aug. 21, said deputy commissioner of labor Jane Gilbert.
“I have a real sense that this is going to be a very important piece of art in the long haul, and it is going to be
an accurate depiction of organized labor’s role in the history of Maine,” Ms. Gilbert said.
Since being awarded the commission last spring, Ms. Taylor has worked on almost nothing besides the
mural. She has immersed herself in the history of Maine workers in the process, delving into books, old
photos, and working closely with University of Maine historian Charles Scontras, one of the foremost
authorities on Maine labor history.
Her deep engagement with the project shines as she describes each panel, pointing out details large and
small. Subjects range from shoe factory workers on strike in Lewiston/Auburn in 1937, to female welders in
Portland’s Liberty shipyard during World War II, to the 1987 paper workers’ strike in Jay which lasted an
entire year.
The oil paintings were completed in a fairly flat, graphic style, within a small range of tones. In the foreground,
the subject figures are depicted in color, with thick, black outlines. Black-and-white images taken from old
photographs form a background in the upper portions of the panels, providing a sense of the historical
events rolling by.

“I studied to be a large figurative painter with multiple groupings of figures, so, this is really the perfect
commission for me,” Ms. Taylor said.
Even though she has labored on the panels for more than a year, she has not grown tired of the project. The
work has proven energizing and engaging for her. “I could continue to work on it forever,” she said.
Ms. Taylor has a Master of Fine Arts in painting from the New York Academy of Figurative Art. She has lived in
many places around the country, but remains especially attracted to Mount Desert Island.
She first came here after being offered the use of a studio during the summer of 1990. Working in the
artist’s space over Café Drydock and painting outdoors amid the splendor of Acadia National Park during
those months, Ms. Taylor grew enamored with the area and made the decision to stay.
She continues to travel, often visiting New York and Austin, Texas, where she has taught classes for many
years.
For the Department of Labor commission, Ms. Taylor was chosen from a pool of more than 100 applicants,
both for her skills and her strong understanding of what the department was looking for, Ms. Gilbert said.
“Both the commissioner and I thought that she was head-and-shoulders above everybody else,” she said.
“Her portraiture and strong oils around people was really what we selected, and also, I think she grasped
what we were trying to do around the history of labor in Maine, and was really able to reflect that best.”
The Mount Desert Islander  June 12, 2008
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