OWINGSVILLE — An Eastern Kentucky art teacher and her middle school students were told to stop work on a Michael Jackson painting after a local pastor and some parents complained.
The unfinished painting, part of a series of paintings that duplicated the work of Andy Warhol, was covered Monday but continued to create a stir in the community and on Internet discussion boards such as Topix.net where several posters referred to Jackson's legal problems and questioned why he was being hailed as a hero.
Bath County School superintendant Nancy Hutchinson said the majority of the school board thought Jackson's painting should be covered up.
"We're not going to get into any battle with our local community," Hutchinson said.
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Hutchinson said the Jackson mural was among dozens of paintings done by students, including those of Marilyn Monroe, who died from a drug overdose in 1962, and Vincent Van Gogh, who committed suicide. Hutchinson said the art teacher and her students have worked on the Warhol project for years. Hutchinson said Jackson was selected about three weeks ago because of the timeliness of his death. None of the paintings are not meant to honor the individual, she said.
But Hutchinson said she started hearing complaints from parents and community members about two weeks ago.
Lowell Rice, pastor of Owingsville First Church of God, said he went to school officials about the Jackson painting after hearing complaints from parents who attend his church. Rice's concerned stemmed from Jackson's tragic death.
"Why is it that we cannot accentuate and emphasize people whose lives are more positive?" Rice said.
The pastor said he has attended countless funerals of young people who died from drug abuse, a longstanding problem in Bath County and Eastern Kentucky, and the paintings send the wrong message.
For others, Jackson's molestation charges from the 1990s and 2000s were bigger issues.
Bill Boyd, a member of the school board, said Jackson's painting was more inappropriate than others on the middle school walls because of the charges. Jackson was indicted in 2003 on child molesting charges but was later acquitted. The singer settled a case in 1994 in which a 14-year-old boy alleged that Jackson sexually molested him.
"I don't think any of the others were accused of being a pedophile," Boyd said.
Boyd said many students are familiar with the perils of drug abuse and "that's so common that it wasn't as big of an issue to me."
Rice said it's important that students are looking up to the right people. He said he planned to have a "casual conversation" with school officials about removing the Monroe mural.
Rice said the students should find other Warhol paintings to use in the project. If Warhol had painted Osama Bin Laden, Rice said, the students would probably not put the al-Qaida leader on their walls.
"He (Warhol) didn't paint Marilyn Monroe for the present middle school children," Boyd said.