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Portland Press Herald (Maine)

Removal of Bush, Cheney Images Doesn't Quell Debate Over Exhibit

Dieter Bradbury

The Kennebunk Free Library removed images of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday from an exhibit of collages made from old American flags.1107 09

Library Director Janet Cate ( said the works did not meet "normative community standards" because of the Bush family's connection with the area, and noted that they had been the subject of complaints from the public.

"This is Mr. Bush's hometown," Cate said, referring to the Bush summer home on Walker's Point in Kennebunkport. "It is very local, and that's the community part of the normative community standards."

It was the second time in a week that controversy has arisen over G. Bud Swenson's exhibit, which includes 22 collages made from old American flags that Swenson purchased at flea markets.

Last Wednesday, Cate told Swenson that the exhibit could not go up, only to reverse her decision after Swenson met a day later with members of the library's board of trustees.

Swenson hung the collages on Tuesday and was planning to attend an opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The exhibit, titled "Portraits in a Time of War," is scheduled to hang until Nov. 29.

But that could change. Board President Kate Manahan said Tuesday that a member of the public has filed a formal appeal with the board, contesting Cate's decision to let the exhibit go forward.

Manahan said the board would take up that appeal as soon as possible.

She said the board has final authority over the exhibit, but it was unclear what course of action it would take.

Swenson refused to take down the images of Bush and Cheney himself, suggesting instead that Cate turn them to face the wall. But Cate removed them and returned them to Swenson Tuesday afternoon.

Swenson described the images of Bush and Cheney as untitled portraits, made with pieces of old flags that had been taken apart and reconstructed.

"They're really quite pleasing, but Bush looks a little perplexed," Swenson said of the works. "Cheney's got kind of a smile, a grin."


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Swenson said he urged Cate not to take down the paintings, "because then we're back to the censorship issue," a concern he raised last week when he was initially told that the exhibit could not be hung.

Although the dispute over the exhibit has political overtones, Manahan said an initial complaint raised concerns about whether Swenson's works are appropriate for viewing by children.

She said trustees addressed that issue when they met with Swenson last week.

"Bud (Swenson) went to great lengths to explain it would not be something that children couldn't view," she said.

Manahan said the board discussed specific works with Swenson, and he did not mention that the exhibit would include the Bush and Cheney pieces.

"We were under the impression that the portraits were all like the ones we had seen, and not of specific individuals," she said.

The library plans two community forums at which the public can meet with Swenson to discuss the exhibit and any issues it raises. Manahan said she planned to discuss the issue publicly Tuesday night.

Manahan would not say whether she felt Swenson's work does not meet community standards.

"I believe in his right to express himself," she said. "He has a right to do what he's doing."

Manahan said the library has a mission of serving the diverse educational, cultural and recreational needs of the Kennebunks. "But it's also our job to find the normative standards and to not exceed and offend," she said.

She suggested that the medium of the American flag, a key component in the controversial exhibit, is emblematic of the kind of open, democratic dialogue the library hopes to foster.

"I would encourage people to see the show if they're going to discuss it, to be willing to listen, and finally to be willing to share what they think in a respectful way," she said.

Copyright © 2007 Portland Press Herald

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