Berkshire Museum Art Sale Goes To Court

Oct 31, 2017

A dispute over the Berkshire Museum's plans to sell off 40 art works will go before a judge Wednesday. 

Two groups, including some of Norman Rockwell's children, are trying to block the sale, which includes two paintings donated to the museum by the artist.

Plaintiff Jim Lamme pointed to a letter to Rockwell in 1958 -- around the time he gave the first painting--Shuffleton's Barber Shop.

"It's certainly evidences an intent on the part of not only Mr. Rockwell, but on the part of the museum to accept and care for, preserve, in perpetuity," Lamme said. 

Museum officials have maintained they have firm legal ground to go ahead with the sale. They said there's no restrictions on any of the works up for sale, and that the money is needed to fund renovations and its endowment.

"We're just a vital part of our community, so we're working hard to continue to be that way, to be sustainable," said Elizabeth McGraw, president of the Berkshire Museum's board.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office is calling for a temporary restraining order against the sale.

In court documents filed this week, assistants for Healey said the sale should be halted so that the office can complete an ongoing review of the museum's plans. While it said the filing did not represent its final opinion, it sided with several of the arguments brought forward by the plaintiffs, including Norman Rockwell's intent and whether the museum has the legal right to sell the art.

"The Berkshire Museum is important to the community and a resource for the entire state," said Emily Snyder, a spokeswoman for Healey. "We are hopeful that this court proceeding presents an opportunity to explore alternatives to this sale that will maintain the art collection and allow the museum to thrive in the years to come."

A second lawsuit against the museum originally filed in Boston has been merged with the suit involving the Rockwell family.

The hearing will be held in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield.