Van Buren courthouse paintings won’t be covered

Southwest Michigan

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — Van Buren County commissioners have decided not to cover up two paintings in the courthouse, a reversal of a previous decision they made.

The decision was made Tuesday afternoon after commissioners heard from people on both sides of the issue. All but one commissioner voted to leave the paintings as they are.

Commissioners had decided earlier this month to cover the paintings with the county seal or cloth after several judges, led by Chief Judge Kathleen Brickley, complained that they were inappropriate.

In one of the paintings, which hangs in a stairwell, a bare-breasted woman holds a decapitated head and a weapon. In the other, which is in a courtroom above the judge’s bench, two nude figures, including a man in shackles, beg another sword-wielding woman for mercy.

“Depictions of violent paintings and beheadings and spears and swords and naked bending on knee are completely contrary to that goal of the Michigan Supreme Court and of our court, that we welcome all and try to deescalate trauma rather than revisit trauma,” Brickley told News 8 Tuesday.

The judge wasn’t alone.

“I really don’t understand what’s beautiful … about the one that the judge would prefer not sitting in front of,” said Kathy Murphy, a Van Buren County resident who spoke at the meeting saying she had mixed feelings about the paintings.

But a local historian argued the paintings, at least one of which is more than 100 years old, were not unusual among contemporary art. Others wanted them to stay, too.

“Do we have to shelter everything?” Rose Rook, who wanted the paintings to stay as they are, told commissioners. “…I am sympathetic to the trauma that people are going through, but I just think we are trying to get rid of everything that offends us or makes us uncomfortable.”

Commissioners seemed to base their votes on the popular opinions of their various districts. Most of the commissioners said their constituencies overwhelmingly supported keeping the murals on display as they are now.

Commissioner Gail Patterson-Gladney cast the lone vote in support of covering the murals. She said she agreed with Judge Brickley’s sentiments and so did most of the constituents she spoke with about the issue.

Brickley said she respects the commission’s decision, but she hasn’t decided what, if anything, she’ll do about the paintings moving forward.

—News 8’s Leon Hendrix contributed to this report.

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