Image by the architects, ARCADE.

A three story atrium is planned for the Berkshire Museum.

A trustee is the safeguard of our inheritance

deaccessioning 40 artworks from the permanent collection

In 2017, the Berkshire Museum Board of Trustees made precedent-setting decisions that led to the sale of the museum’s most valued art. The impact of this continues to reverberate throughout the community and beyond.

The decisions that led to the sale had a long history and were not unanimous. On May 22, 2017, the board voted to authorize board president Elizabeth McGraw to draw up a consignment agreement with Sotheby’s. The Collection Committee then voted to sell the collection on July 11, 2017, with 9 out of 14 members present. In addition to the board members who served on this committee, museum director Van Shields and staff members Nina Garlington, Craig Langlois, Logan Recchia and Jason Verchot were also present. At the same meeting, the committee approved changes to the collections policy in order to allow the 40 work to be sold. Minutes released by the museum show that no discussion took place. The following day the full board approved the motion to sell, with 17 in favor of the deaccession, 1 abstaining, and 4 absent.

That vote was the culmination of nearly two-years’ planning that museum leaders began in December 2015 with the help of attorney Mark Gold, a vocal advocate for dismantling long-accepted guidelines for ethical deaccession practice. Board president Elizabeth “Buzz” McGraw indicated at the time that a “committee of the whole” studied deaccessioning as an option among other ideas. That research was conducted on “parallel tracks” while consultants hired by the museum met with 400 invited community members to pitch a “New Vision” for the museum that emphasized interactive exhibits and science over art — but without revealing that the new plan would require selling its most valuable and cherished art.

The decision to sell the art was made public on July 12, but the museum named only two paintings by Norman Rockwell. “The complete list of artwork, which includes Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art, will be released by Sotheby’s sometime prior to [the auction], according to the museum.” The museum only released the information to the public on July 24, after public outcry, reversing its original decision to keep it private.

See the timeline of events published by the Berkshire Eagle.

It is interesting, if not significant, that a majority of the board members serving at the time of the deaccession have since resigned. As of 2021, only 2 trustees who voted for the deaccession remain, currently serving as board president and vice-president. Three members of the full 22-member board have continued on, along with three listed honorary life trustees.

The present board continues to defend the sale, as does current director Jeff Rodgers, hired in 2019 with full understanding of what occurred at the Berkshire Museum. Jeff Rogers steps down as Berkshire Museum Executive Director, September 13, 2021 (Berkshire Museum Press Release). Also of note, retired board president, Van Shields, and former president Elizabeth McGraw participated in a recent Syracuse University Law School symposium, Deaccessioning After 2020, (March 2021). Co-organized by attorney Mark Gold, this panel was a transparent attempt to retroactively justify the sale.

Berkshire Museum Board of Trustees in 2017

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“The board has voted to deaccession the works and make them available for sale. The board is not considering reversing its direction.”
Lesley Ann Beck, senior communications manager
July 24, 2017
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Van Shields, Executive Director of Museum
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Mark Gold, Museum Deaccessioning Lawyer
Hired in 2005 for the sale of 3 Russian paintings.
Elizabeth McGraw, Board President
Elizabeth McGraw, President

Elizabeth “Buzz” McGraw was elected president of the Berkshire Museum’s board of trustees at the board’s annual meeting on Sept. 26, 2016. A trustee since 2008, and board vice president since 2013. Berkshire Business Briefs
Dear Community

Stacey Gillis Weber, Board Vice President
Stacey Gillis Weber, Vice President
Stacey Gillis Weber was elected vice president of the Berkshire Museum’s board of trustees at the board’s annual meeting on September 28, 2015.
With new trustees, Berkshire Museum looks to improve, expand
Ethan Klepetar, Board Vice President
Ethan Klepetar, Vice President
Ethan Klepetar was elected vice president of the Berkshire Museum’s board of trustees at the board’s annual meeting on September 26, 2016 Berkshire Business Briefs
Carol J. Riordan, Board Treasurer
Carol J. Riordan, Treasurer

Abstained from the July 11, 2017 vote to auction off art as a means to fund the museum’s New Vision, resigned because she disagreed with the plan.Two Berkshire Museum trustees quit board, one cites art sale Stress of art sale issue winnows Berkshire Museum Board.

Lyndia S. Rosner, Board Secretary
Lydia S. Rosner, Secretary
Photo Courtesy of Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle

Mike Addy

Jay Bikofsky

Elected to the board in September 2013
(left the board Sept. 2017)

Howard J. Eberwein III

Nancy Edman Feldman

(resigned Sept. 2017)

Wendy Gordon

Joan Hunter

Elected to the board in April 2016
Left the board. Opted not to remain when 2 year term expired)

Barbara Krauthamer

Elected to the board in Oct. 2015 and left the board in Sept. 2017

Suzanne Nash

Stephen Bayne

Douglas Crane

Elected to the board in Sept. 2015
What would Zenas say?
The Berkshire Eagle, July 30, 2017

Ursula Ehret-Dichter

David Glodt

Elected to the board in Sept. 2013

William M. Hines, Jr.

Board President from 2011 – 2016
trustee since 2007

Eric Korenman

Donna Krenicki

Jeffery Noble

Melissa Scarafoni

Elected to the board in Sept. 2015

Honorary Life Trustees

Michael Chrisopher, C. Jeffery Cook and Betsey Selkowitz

Berkshire Museum art auction
not discussed in focus groups

By Carrie Saldo, The Berkshire Eagle
August 17, 2017
“We asked these people to help us shape our plans, not to endorse them — although many have, publicly,” board of trustees President Elizabeth “Buzz” McGraw wrote Thursday.

Berkshire Museum Collections Committee member quits in protest; ‘Never did I hear a peep’ about
art sale plan

By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
November 16, 2017
“Never did I hear a peep about how they were going to get there,” he said of the museum’s proposed “New Vision,” a plan to provide expanded programming in science using its collections and new interactive displays.

Berkshire Museum releases impounded court documents – Meanwhile, museum says AG refused offer on injunction

By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, December 11, 2017
The Berkshire Museum dropped its opposition Monday to the release of impounded court documents requested by The Berkshire Eagle, making public nearly 60 pages of material sealed since November 1, 2017

“Before you get worried, we will still have a Crane room in another part of the building. We will actually have three theatres which are state of the art and digitally based and very intimate and wonderful,” Shields said. “But this space, this space will become the new heart of the museum because it is going to be a three-story atrium, as depicted here, and it’s going to be completely wrapped with hundreds of items from our collection.”

Van Shields
Berkshire Museum Director
2011–2018

Berkshire Museum’s reimagined wide-open lobby.

Images by Experience Design for the Berkshire Museum

 

When did the Berkshire Museum Start Selling Art?

In the spring of 2005, Stuart Chase, executive director of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, was preparing for a $10 million renovation to the hundred-year old building. A survey of the collections was under way when Chase pulled three paintings out of the racks. “I just knew they were something more,” Chase says. “While the works seemed out of context with the rest of the collection, I was intrigued and drawn to their apparent European regionalism.”

These had never been shown and were not related to the museum’s mission.

The $7 million realized from their sale will directly support the development of the museum’s permanent art and natural science collections. The acquisition fund will enhance the Berkshire Museum’s role as one of the region’s institutions with a strong economic impact on the local economy. Spending from this sale to acquire art by living Berkshire-based artists will re-circulate through the local economy as spending in the mix of businesses that they support—and that support them. The collection serves as a draw in marketing the Berkshire Museum and the Berkshires. Seen together, this is the type of investment and spending that makes up our “creative economy.”

Chase left the museum in 2011 but the board of trustees and the museum’s lawyer, Mark Gold began a process that ultimately succeeding in the sale and devastating loss of the community’s most valued works entrusted to the museum by founder Zenas Crane and local artist, Norman Rockwell.

“The proceeds from the sale can only be used for future acquisitions or for direct care and conservation of the permanent collection.”

“I just knew they were something more,” Chase says. “While the works seemed out of context with the rest of the collection, I was intrigued and drawn to their apparent European regionalism.”

Stuart Chase
Berkshire Museum Director
2005–2011

ABOUT

SAVE THE ART (STA)
A grassroots citizens group established in 2017 with the intent of stopping the sale of the Berkshire Museum’s treasured art collection in order to find an alternate solution to its continued financial shortfall.

MISSION

The mission of Save the Art is to advocate for and protect the Public Trust — the art and objects belonging to all of us that document humankind’s creative and social history through time.

PRESS

We thank the Berkshire Eagle for their extensive investigative coverage, the journalists, op-ed writers and our community for their hundreds of letters of concern. In particular, STA applauds Larry Parnass, Investigations Editor, Berkshire Eagle, for his excellent coverage of the Berkshire Museum and achievement of the 2018 Outstanding Journalism award from the New England Newspaper and Press Association.