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You can't un-ring a bell, attorney tells woman

Friday, February 3, 2012

Maxine Henderson married a man who became one of the biggest oil distributors in the area and he had a pool table and friends came in and enjoyed their home and companionship.

They also enjoyed her art. Her landscapes, still life paintings and portraits ranged from impressionistic to faithful oils portraying people doing ordinary things. One of those was what became known as "Nude Gwen."

Gwen, according to a widely held impression of the picture, is portrayed seated on a bench in a bathroom with a tub behind her. She is drying off with a towel after a bath. To some folks, it was nowhere near pornographic. It's even still less evocative than art portraying a slave girl who was later described by wise men as "clothed in her own modesty."

But there was a glob of black oil paint amid an otherwise white orb, surrounded by a black line that somehow irritated the assistant director of the city school system who complained that she had to look at "Nude Gwen" when she walked into the City Council Chamber where the school board was meeting, a session that required her attendance outside school headquarters. She didn't want her son to look at centerfolds in so-called men's magazines, so she complained and the city attorney's office had her reduce her complaint to ink on paper. The city attorney provided a fill-in-the-blanks form for the assistant director.

The painting was removed from what was later judged to be a limited public forum. Until that ruling "Nude Gwen" was stored in a closet out of public view.

The chain of events became public and the assistant director of schools sought to withdraw her complaint.

"You can't un-ring a bell," was what the city attorney replied.

Maxine hired an attorney for violation of her constitutional right of free speech. She requested $1 from the city, plus court costs, attorney fees and the like.

Maxine's attorney wanted to use a law that permits a tripling of the award, but she objected. She wanted to make a statement.

An exact accounting of the costs paid are contained in the city treasurer's office, or the archives from the 1990s in the City of Murfreesboro.

Why do we care here?

This week, Marshall County is stepping forward with another director of schools. A panel of our fellow citizens selected a candidate experienced in this county's system.

The world is bigger than Marshall County, and as much as we love the small town atmosphere of cordial relations, there are larger facts of life that impose their will on our community. With so few here, most folks try to get along knowing that one man's freedom to swing stops at the tip of another's nose.

Within broad parameters, there's no better lifestyle among folks who get along as long as they can, knowing there are rights, privileges and responsibilities in daily life.

"Nude Gwen" was, largely, a portrait in black and white. Her face wasn't clear. She could be anyone's mother, wife, sister, daughter.

Our sons and daughters deserve the best we can provide. We deserve the best from those we entrust with our community treasure to use it to its best effect.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.