After Boy Scouts’ Bankruptcy, Medici Museum Plans for Life without Rockwells

HOWLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio – With the sale of the Boy Scouts of America’s Norman Rockwell art collection now a certainty, the opportunity to see the paintings locally is coming to an end.

A trove of 65 Rockwell paintings has been on display at the Medici Museum of Art in Howland since last summer. But on Monday, the BSA submitted a bankruptcy reorganization plan that specifies that it will sell its Rockwell collection, along with other assets.

Ned Gold, chairman of the Medici’s scouting art collection, said the paintings – the prized segment of a $100 million, 450-piece collection that the BSA loaned to the museum over a year ago – will likely remain on display at least through the end of this year. It will probably take that long, he explained, for the court to order and conduct the sale.

But just in case, Gold suggests folks who haven’t yet seen the art act quickly.

“People need to get up here to see it now,” Gold said, “because [the sale] could happen sooner.”

As of Tuesday, the Medici had not received any instructions from the BSA, Gold said. He expects to hear from an attorney for the organization in the next few days.

The scouting organization filed for bankruptcy in the wake of thousands of sexual abuse claims filed by former scouts. 

The paintings by the late Rockwell were created between 1920 and 1970 and were commissioned by the BSA for use in its publications.

Owned by Foundation Medici and opened in 2019, the museum was formerly the Butler Institute of American Art Trumbull Branch but severed that relationship over several issues, including a disagreement over whether to obtain and display the BSA collection. In a December 2019 interview, John A. Anderson, director of Foundation Medici, said the new museum was fully aware of the risk involved with accepting the collection. 

Gold echoed that statement. “We knew from the beginning this collection would be sold in bankruptcy proceedings,” he said Tuesday. “We took it with that understanding.”

Gold, a former Boy Scout and scouting leader, was key in acquiring the collection. “When the chief executive [of BSA] told me [in 2019] that they were going to keep the collection in storage, I wrote him one more letter and said it’s better to have that collection on a museum wall than in a warehouse in Dallas, and that resonated with them,” he said. “That’s how we got on the path of getting it at the Medici.”

The exhibit opened in June by appointment only because of pandemic regulations. The museum opened for daily public hours later in the summer.

The Rockwell exhibit has so far been seen by about 10,000 people, Gold said, and has drawn interest from across the county.

“Two weeks ago, we had two people fly in from California just to see the collection,” he said.

The museum has also received tens of thousands of voicemails, emails and website messages about the collection, Gold said. 

The forced sale of the artworks – when and how – will be up to the bankruptcy court and remains to be seen, Gold said.

“Our hope is that one person will buy the whole thing,” he said, because that would increase the possibility that the Medici will be permitted to continue to display at least part of the collection.

If the collection is auctioned off one painting at a time or in parcels, Gold said “it is within the realm of possibility” that the Medici could purchase one. The museum already has a plan in place for exhibitions after the Rockwells are gone.

“We’ve got a number of collections waiting in the wings from outstanding sources,” Gold said.

Katelyn Russo, the new associate director of the Medici Museum, said some of those exhibitions will be mounted soon in the annex that is under construction. The annex will double the number of galleries at the museum to 10.

“As soon as the annex is complete, which will be by the end of this month, we will put up the Joseph Satari paintings,” Russo said. Satari was the BSA’s successor to Rockwell and painted in a style that closely resembled Rockwell. His paintings are part of the BSA collection.

“[Satari] is still living and wants to come and visit the museum,” Russo said.

The private collection of the late James Grohl, father of rock superstar Dave Grohl, and his wife, Renie, will also be displayed at the Medici in the future.

“They gifted their private collection to the museum,” Russo said, adding that it includes a piece by French artist Henri Matisse.

James Grohl, who lived in Howland, died in 2014. 

In addition to the Rockwell paintings, a collection of Bill Thompson’s minimalist work is currently on display at the museum. An exhibit of Carole Feuerman’s hyperrealist sculptures  will open this summer, and in the fall, the steel pipe sculptures of D’Arcy Bellamy will go on display.

“We are currently finalizing the remainder of our exhibition schedule now,” Russo said. “We will not be a ‘collection’ museum. We want to have new exhibitions constantly coming to Medici, to fill our walls with new artists and ideas and bring new audiences walking through our doors.”

Pictured: Ned Gold, director of the scouting collection at Medici Museum of Art, stands with one of the Rockwell paintings at the Howland museum.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.