Zenas Crane III

Zenas Crane III

The Berkshire Museum was founded by paper magnate Zenas Crane III, who invested his wealth into his surrounding community. He actively sought out art and artifacts for Berkshire Museum (some of the significant works scheduled to be sold), and encouraged the development of collections that would display, under one roof, the splendors of nature and the sublime creations of human genius—science and art, natural and manmade beauty, together in intellectual and aesthetic collaboration—a “window on the world.”

The current Berkshire Museum administration, however, in an attempt to shore up its finances, fund a “New Vision” and ensure the Museum’s stability “for the next hundred years,” and sent 40 of its most valuable artworks to Sotheby’s for auction on November 13, 2017. They say the works, from which they hope to raise $40-60 million, are “not essential” to the Museum’s new mission with its focus on science and technology, primarily for children. Among the works to be sold works are two paintings by Norman Rockwell donated by the artist for the Museum’s “permanent collection,” significant works by Hudson River School artists, including Albert Bierstadt and Fredric Edwin Church, acquired by Museum founder Zenas Crane III in 1910, and sculpture by Alexander Calder, now internationally-recognized but once a local artist whose first commissions were for the Berkshire Museum.

While the Museum conducted focus groups in forming their “New Vision,” because participants were not informed about how it would be funded, the results are not valid. Following the Museum’s revelation to the public, which occurred after the works were consigned to Sotheby’s, several financial analysts, including those at the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), which supported the Museum with over $1M in grants over the past ten years, have established that the Museum has exaggerated its financial need. In addition to the MCC, major museum organizations made public their strong opposition to the sale, including the Smithsonian Institution, from which the Museum was forced to withdraw its affiliation. Latest in national news coverage, is Felix Salmon’s comprehensive article in The New Yorker (October 4, 2017).

“There’s no good reason for the museum’s rush: its endowment can easily last a couple more years, during which time the trustees could, were they so inclined, make every effort to keep the museum’s best paintings in the Berkshires, where they belong.”

Felix Salmon