Let’s remember when the Washington Legislature freaked out over the Twelve Labors of Hercules, on this day in 1982 (March 7)
The Washington state legislature voted, 17 years ago today, to remove the mural “The Twelve Labors of Hercules” from the House chamber, less than a year after it was installed. They also voted to cover another mural, commissioned by the Senate, for being “too abstract.” It was an embarrassing episode for most involved.
The way HistoryLink tells it:
When Washington’s Capitol Building was built in 1911, its architects designated certain areas for the display of art. Over the years, legislators offered various proposals to fill those spaces, but the appropriations were never approved until 1979, when $200,000 for art was included in the 1979–1981 budget, mostly due to the efforts of Representative John O’Brien (1911–2007).
In a procedure agreed to by the Joint Legislative Facilities Committee and the State Capitol Museum Board, a panel of jurors was chosen that included architects and arts educators from state universities, as well arts patrons such as Virginia Wright (b. 1929). These jurors pored over 200 public art proposals and selected six semi-finalists. Of those six, they chose Michael Spafford and Alden Mason, both senior faculty members of the University of Washington art department, based on preliminary drawings and interviews with the artists.
When Spafford’s “Twelve Labors of Hercules” was installed in 1981, some legislators found it “pornographic,” with one, named Dick Bond (heh) introducing a bill to get rid of the mural, even after a committee recommended the murals stay.
While the committee recommended keeping the art in place, the legislature thought otherwise. On March 7, 1982, it voted overwhelmingly to tear down or cover the murals. Some legislators voiced very strong opinions about the matter. Dick Bond (b. 1924), who sponsored the resolution, referred to the artwork as “dirty black and white pictures.” Representative Mike Patrick (b. 1941), a Seattle police officer, claimed that the murals met the three tests of pornography. “Does it have redeeming social value. No. Does it appeal to prurient interest? Yes. Is it an affront to community standards? Yes.”
The mural didn’t actually come down until several years later, though it was put behind a curtain to shield everyone’s eyes from art, deciding that removal would damage the art and would be costly. The video below notes that they were behind a curtain until a fan, Rep. Joe King (D) became Speaker and ordered the curtains to be removed. Once he stopped being Speaker, the Legislature had the mural removed for good. It can be seen at Centralia College these days.
For further reading: