Work is removed from building CARROLL COUNTY


August 12, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

The painting of a nude woman with a small framed landscape draped around her hips is called "Art Censors Art."

Tuesday, the pastel and acrylic painting was hanging in the first-floor hallway at the Carroll County Office Building. Yesterday, it wasn't.

"That it got censored is kind of funny," observed Westminster artist Thomas J. Sterner. "I thought my stuff was tame enough, but I do understand I live in a conservative place."

Twenty-two pieces of his artwork were displayed around the county building at 225 N. Center St. in Westminster -- for 24 hours. The show was sponsored by the Carroll County Artists' Guild, an arm of the Carroll County Arts Council.

"A lot of employees were kind of taken aback," Maggy MacPherson, the county's communications manager, said yesterday.

Many reacted by giggling and rolling their eyes.

Most of Mr. Sterner's other works were not controversial, although at least two others could be considered more sexually suggestive than the nude.

"Banana has a mind" was a drawing of the fruit against a square black background with four words penned around it -- "aroused, courageous, contemplative, sensible."

The other, "Naughty bits," was a pastel-on-paper landscape with body parts blended into the sky, hills and valleys.

But it was the 29-inch-by-23-inch nude that caused the trouble.

Why was the artwork taken down?

"One of them was," Ms. MacPherson paused, "a nude."

No formal complaints were made, but some county officials raised concerns that the nude could be offensive and its presence might be considered sexual harassment by some employees, she said.

County employees recently completed training courses to make them aware of what actions can be considered sexual harassment, Ms. MacPherson said. Hanging "pinups" can be, she said.

County officials talked with Arts Council officials, who talked with Mr. Sterner.

"This is not an art gallery. What we're doing is trying to liven up the hallway," said Department of Recreation and Parks Director Richard J. Soisson, who oversees the Arts Council. "Probably in the future we'll have better screening. We don't want controversy here."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. pointed out the artwork to him. "I didn't say, 'Go take it down.' I said it wasn't appropriate. Citizens of all natures come in there," Mr. Dell said.

Paintings from the Artists' Guild are hung in the main hall near offices were residents pay tax bills and apply for jobs. Guild members change the display monthly. The subjects of the artwork usually are flowers and farm animals.

Mr. Sterner took his works down Tuesday afternoon.

"The choice was mine -- either take down one piece or take down the show, and I took down the show.

"There are no hard feelings on my part," he said.

"The intent of my artwork is to make people think and make them laugh, not to upset them.

"They [county officials] don't want me to consider it censorship," Mr. Sterner said.

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