If you walk along the corridor of the University of Maine Hutchinson Center’s new wing, you’re likely to see a number of artworks displayed on the walls. The hallway is also know as the Fernald Art Gallery, and on view until the end of April is a show of work by the teachers of Regional School Unit 20.

There are photographs of children, trees and animals, several metal sculptures incorporating gears, pulleys and water spigots, a large metal head and a giant spider made from sea stones and bronze.

What you won’t see are several works by Troy Howard Middle School teacher Lynnette Sproch, who withdrew her pieces after finding out that because of their subject matter, they would be shown, not in the hallway with the other work, but in an adjoining classroom. Here, the administration of the Hutchinson Center reasoned, people could see the artwork, but they wouldn’t have to.

Sproch’s pieces for the show included a naturalistic watercolor of a pregnant woman reclining and a stylized colored-pencil drawing with depictions of mothers cradling babies in their arms amid swirls of oranges and blues. A third image was Sproch’s interpretation of a woman’s life cycle from egg to old age, imagined as a wreath of intertwined bodies from which several birds emerge and appear to fly away.

What concerned the administration of the Hutchinson Center, was that the women were, for the most part, nude.

By Sproch’s account, she has shown similar pieces “all over the place,” and never had the subject matter called into question. “That’s why this is so shocking and saddening to me, really. It really shocked me,” she said. “This thing has just bothered me so much.”

Sproch claimed she was told the work was not being censored, but the subject matter was too “sensitive” to be shown in a public hallway. Had she known sooner she said, she would have tried to negotiate with the administration at the Hutchinson Center. “But I had no time to do that. It was already put somewhere else and I was offended by that,” she said. Rather than have the work displayed apart from the rest of the show, Sproch asked that it be taken down.

Hutchinson Center Director Sue McCullough, who was involved in the decision to move Sproch’s work to the art classroom, said the policy in place at the Hutchinson Center is the same as at other University of Maine campuses. Artists wishing to display their work at the Belfast commuter campus sign an agreement that allows the school the option of setting the work aside. According to McCullough, there are no rigid guidelines on what would disqualify a work from being shown in the hallway gallery, but she said, “it usually comes down to frontal nudity.”

“I thought they were beautiful and very sensitively done, but there would be other people who would object to that. It’s a very difficult decision,” she said. “… Regardless of my opinion, I have to think more broadly. What are the community standards?”

The Hutchinson Center started reserving the right to separate work last fall, following a faculty group exhibition that included works by Belfast photographer and University of Maine Professor Charles Dufour, whose work depicts nudes in natural settings.

Unlike Sproch, Dufour did not withdraw his work when he heard of the plan to display it separately, in part, he said, because he felt sympathetic toward the position of the administrators who might have to field complaints.

On the practical side, however, he speculated that his work wasn’t seen by as many people as those on display in the hallway. While working in the building, he often found the door to the classroom locked, a problem he chalked up to routine building maintenance. Dufour also worried that separating the work would create the impression of “something that perhaps is not right.”

“And to me, that’s not fair, because that gives it a label that it doesn’t warrant having,” he said. “It puts it in the same category as porn.”

State statutes governing pornography on “Dissemination of Obscene Matter to Minors” — the closest state law comes to governing the content of art — specifically does not apply to public schools, art galleries and a number of other public venues.

If it did, it would likely rely on the statute’s definition of obscene matter, described as that which “(1) To the average individual, applying contemporary community standards, with respect to what is suitable material for minors, considered as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (2) Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive manner, ultimate sexual acts, excretory functions, masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals; and (3) Considered as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

According to Zach Heiden, legal director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, there is no situation in which an artwork could justifiably be separated from the rest of an exhibition based upon its content.

“If it’s a government actor — a city hall, or a public university — they can’t marginalize speech because it’s controversial or may upset some small minority of the population,” he said.

Heiden was not familiar with Sproch’s work, but seemed surprised to hear that the work was removed from a public space because it depicted frontal nudity.

“The nude human form has been a subject of art for thousands of years, in painting and sculpture, [from] the beginning of art. So, it hardly seems controversial,” he said.

McCullough chalked the school policy up to remnants of Puritan heritage in American culture.

“When you think about walking down a school hallway, what are you going to see?” McCullough said. She pointed to a watercolor painting above her desk — one of a number of pieces purchased by MBNA when the Hutchinson Center was built. “These nice pictures of the Maine landscape … nobody’s going to argue with those,” she said. “And that’s what you’re going to find in public spaces.”

McCullough said she believes Sproch censored her own work by removing it from the show.

“I would have loved to have had it hanging up in [the art studio],” she said. “I would have loved to have taken people in there and said, ‘This is beautiful work.’ But I didn’t get that opportunity to do that. She refused to allow us to do it.”

Belfast Area High School art teacher Charles Hamm, who curated the show, took a similar view. Hamm said he valued the working relationship he had with the Hutchinson Center and would not want to be disrespectful by criticizing the policy of the institution.

“It works for them,” he said. “They have to consider what’s going to work for them. It would have still been on display if she hadn’t pulled it.”

Though Sproch was offended by her own work’s being removed, she expressed her opinion that some content, particularly male frontal nudity, should not be shown in public places where children could see it.

Sproch said her students at the middle school “can’t handle” depictions of nudity. They giggle and become embarrassed, she said. She gave the example of Michelangelo’s “David,” which she said she would never show to her class. When she has taught high school students, however, Sproch said she was able to have constructive conversations about artworks depicting nudity.

Asked if and where she would draw the line regarding artwork displayed in a public space, Sproch took several moments to think, then said, “I believe in censorship. There are works that should not be in public places where children will see them. I do believe that. But these,” she said, pointing to her paintings and drawings, “aren’t them.”