“We came to protest,” said George Joel Stanley as he asked a receptionist in the lobby for the governor’s office, explaining, “I did my own mural.” The 63-year-old entered the governor’s office, next to a white sign promoting “Arts in the Capitol,” and revealed to Bennett a portrait of LePage under the title “New pro-Biznezz” and a drawing of a worker with a screw in his back. “You never know,” he said to her. “He might like it.”
Bennett nodded gamely and crossed the tiled hall, where Planned Parenthood was staging a news conference about keeping its funding in the federal budget, and entered a small office where communications director Dan Demeritt chuckled at a letter by the Aroostook County Republican Committee soliciting funds to buy the mural outright.
“It’s not a coordinated effort,” Demeritt quipped. But Republican officials are certainly not opposed to the idea. When a commenter on the conservative blog As Maine Goes suggested that Republicans “pay off the feds and burn it,” GOP legislator Jon McKane of Newcastle chimed in on the blog, “You read my mind.”
Maine owns the mural, but the federal funding that contributed to its commission means that if LePage does not exhibit the art in an appropriate government building, he must reimburse the state’s unemployment trust fund account 63.39 percent of the “current fair market value,” according to the Labor Department. Given the painting’s new cultural significance, LePage may unintentionally have taken on the role of a political Larry Gagosian, the art dealer who has a knack for driving up prices. Tom Denenberg, the chief curator of the Portland Museum of Art, said that while he wouldn’t put a dollar amount on the mural’s appreciation, the governor’s focus “without a doubt dramatically increases its importance.” That complicates LePage’s efforts to take full control of the situation, and Bennett said the office is still “assessing” what to do with the work. She insisted that LePage wishes the mural no harm — he just finds it anti-business.
“When a new administration comes in, you talk about message, you talk about rebranding,” Bennett said, adding that the mural does not reflect the governor’s agenda. “Where are the job creators? Where is Mr. Bean?” she asked, referring to the founder of Maine-based L.L. Bean, purveyor of Shetland sweaters, hunting boots and other preppy outdoor wear.