Time Ticking For A Berkshire Museum Appeal

Nov 8, 2017

The Berkshire Museum is poised to start auctioning off parts of its collection next week, including two Norman Rockwell paintings. That's after a judge Tuesday cleared the way for the sale.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has not yet said whether she'll appeal. The attorney general -- along with plaintiffs including some of Norman Rockwell's sons -- sought an injunction to halt the auction, but were denied.

Carol Diehl, of the Pittsfield group "Save the Art," said the AG made arguments another judge might agree with on appeal.

"She has a very, very strong case for the board not doing its fiduciary duty, not being responsive to the attorney general," Diehl said.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said it is reviewing the decision.

Meanwhile, two national art museum groups say they're worried the decision might set a dangerous precedent for other museums facing financial trouble, like the Berkshire Museum. They worry, among other things, the art will be bought by private collectors, never to be seen publicly again.

"Museum boards, or public entities that own museums, will see selling off collections as financial assets to address financial difficulties or operating needs, or building needs, or debt, is fair game," said Lori Fogarty, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors. "That's why the museum associations have worked so hard to underscore the implications of this for the museum field."

As for the Berkshire Museum case, Fogarty said she, too, was disappointed by the judge's decision, but said she could see both sides of the argument when it came to whether or not to appeal.

"The Last Arrow," by Thomas Moran, slated for sale by the Berkshire Museum.
Credit Courtesy Sotheby's

When asked about the court ruling, another Berkshire County museum -- the Norman Rockwell Museum in Great Barrington -- said it would be a "terrible loss" if the two paintings by Rockwell left the region.

Any decision about an appeal will have to come quickly: The first pieces from the Berkshire Museum, including the Rockwell paintings, are due to hit the auction block Monday.

Museum officials say they need the money from the sell-off to survive. They say they've been running a deficit for the last decade, and hope to be able to fund a so-called "new vision." They plan to fund renovations to the museum and boost its endowment.