Mt. Lebanon library says partially nude woman in photo exhibit breaks rules


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It was labeled "Innocence."

But the photo of a woman with an exposed breast -- from a historic painting hanging in the Mercer County Courthouse -- might be construed otherwise, according to Mt. Lebanon Public Library officials, who asked photographer John Flatz to replace it with something else.

He refused, and thus began a tug of war that has, for now, ended in a draw.

"Innocence," a portrait in the classical style of a woman in slight deshabille, robes flowing off one shoulder, is in the library's exhibition of Mr. Flatz's architectural photographs through the end of February, but "the possibility exists that it could be challenged," said Cynthia Landrum, assistant director and spokeswoman for the library. The library's director, Cynthia Richey, is traveling overseas.

Since 1911, the original "Innocence" mural has occupied one of four corners framing the dome of the Mercer County Courthouse. Mr. Flatz photographed it, along with other architectural details of the courthouse, last winter. It was painted, along with three other allegorical murals ("Guilt" "Justice" and "Power of the Law") by Edward Simmons, an internationally known muralist who also painted nine panels that hang in the Library of Congress.

Tim Hofius, clerk for the Mercer County Courthouse, said the "Innocence" mural is visible in the building's rotunda, but it's so high up it's hard to get a close look. "We've never gotten a complaint about it."

Mr. Flatz, 56, of South Park, has been taking architectural photographs for years -- and waited for two years to get a chance to exhibit them at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library. "I like contrasting photographs of dilapidated buildings with those that have been restored," he said. "It isn't always obvious which one is more beautiful."

He installed about 30 photographs of his work in the library's front gallery Friday. Then on Monday, he says, he received a call from a library staffer who told him that the photograph of "Innocence" would have to go.

"She said the problem with the photo of the breast was that it was across from [Mellon] middle school," he said, "and the kids coming in after school come into the library and might joke about the picture. She sounded real apologetic about it."

Taken aback, Mr. Flatz said he told the gallery manager "I am not going to take it down and do nothing. This is about artistic expression and censorship."

So he covered up the offending breast on Monday with a picture of a bra and an arrow pointing to it saying "Censored by the Mt. Lebanon Public Library."

Ms. Landrum said the image violates the library's exhibit guidelines.

"I would have preferred that Mr. Flatz posted his photographs after reading the guidelines," Ms. Landrum said. "Our position is not to censor as a library. If we're really going to censor him, we would have taken it down, but we didn't."

The photo will remain as is, but "we cannot say that when our director comes back or if a board member comes in that there may not be a concern."

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Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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