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Valley art museum may lose Rockwell collection

Tom Hazen, Medici Museum of Art manager, left, and Boy Scouts of America photographer Michael Roytek uncrate one of the BSA’s Norman Rockwell paintings after their arrival at the Howland museum in February 2020. Those paintings now could be sold as part of a bankruptcy proposal filed by BSA lawyers on Monday. The collection has been appraised at more than $100 million. ,,, Staff file photo / R. Michael Semple

HOWLAND — The Norman Rockwell collection on display at the Medici Museum of Art is one of the assets the Boy Scouts of America is offering to sell as part of a bankruptcy reorganization proposal.

To protect itself from victim compensation lawsuits from former Scouts who say they were sexually assaulted as children, the BSA filed for bankruptcy in February 2020, less than a month after the art collection arrived locally.

The reorganization plan filed Monday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware would sell the BSA art collection and other assets to establish a fund to settle those claims. The art collection, which includes works by Walt Disney, J.C. Leyendecker and other artists as well as 65 Rockwell paintings, has been appraised at more than $100 million.

“We knew from day one this could happen,” said Howland attorney Ned Gold, who was instrumental in negotiating the agreement with the BSA to bring the collection here. “The question now is when. I think it’s going to be a while.”

Gold, who has been active in Scouting for more than 70 years, originally tried to bring the art collection to the area when he was a member of the board of trustees for the Butler Institute of American Art.

The Butler board decided in 2018 to table a proposal to become custodians of the BSA collection, in part because of the threat of bankruptcy. Foundation Medici, which donated the land and provided the bulk of funding for the gallery that opened as the Butler’s Trumbull Branch in 1996, severed its lease agreement with the Youngstown museum and established itself as a separate entity.

Gold said he hasn’t talked to anyone from the BSA since the reorganization plan was filed, but he expects to soon.

“My sense is I think we’ll probably have it (the art) toward the end of the year, into fall, possibly longer,” Gold said. “Then again the court could say sooner.”

Gold and Katelyn Amendolara-Russo, associate director of the Medici Museum, said the effort to bring it to the area was worth it, regardless of how long it remains.

“The response we’ve had to this collection has been incredible,” Gold said. “The people who’ve seen the collection are awed by it. We have Scouts coming, scouters coming, the general public coming. We had a couple that flew in from northern California just to see the collection. In three weeks, we’ll have four private jets filled with Scouting contributors coming from Raleigh, N.C., to see the collection and have a party at the museum.”

Amendolara-Russo added, “I’m happy amidst the pandemic that so many have been able to come the museum and enjoy this astonishing collection.”

A grand opening reception for the Rockwells was planned in March 2020, the same month the state shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum reopened in May, initially only for groups of 10 people or fewer who made reservations in advance, but the ongoing health crisis has muted its ability to draw visitors to the region.

“Has that been frustrating? It’s been horribly frustrating,” Gold said. “This (the pandemic) has been sad for so many reasons. As related to Medici and the collection, it’s been very disappointing and frustrating, but we’ve managed to mostly work around it as much as we can.”

The museum saw a major spike in interest starting late last year after a popular Scouting blog did a story on the collection, Amendolara-Russo said. She expects attendance to continue to grow as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and feel more comfortable traveling.

An expansion of the Howland museum should be completed this spring, and the museum always intended to display other work beyond the BSA collection.

“We’re moving forward,” Amendolara-Russo said. “I have the galleries booked up for this year … We have exciting plans to bring in new displays, new artists, new shows constantly coming in and out.”

agray@tribtoday.com

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