Butler Institute Tables Working with Boy Scouts on Rockwell Collection

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Butler Institute of American Art, poised to begin a year-long celebration of its centennial, issued a statement Saturday from its board of trustees explaining why it has tabled an agreement to become the custodian of the fine art collection belonging to the Boy Scouts of America.

The collection, valued at $130 million, includes 66 illustrations by Norman Rockwell, who was the official artist of the Boy Scouts. He died in 1978. Disagreement over the Butler acquiring the rights to display and store the collection was first reported by the Tribune Chronicle in Warren.

According to the newspaper, the disagreement surfaced publicly when the director of the Foundation Medici, which supports the Trumbull Branch of the museum, sent a letter to Thomas J. Cavalier, president of the Butler board, objecting to the board’s decision to temporarily pass on the Boy Scouts collection.

Trustees approved a resolution in September to accept the collection and make a $100,000 down payment on the display rights. The situation became problematic, according to Cavalier, in December when The Wall Street Journal speculated in a news story that “sex-abuse lawsuits have brought the 108-year-old institution [the Boy Scouts] to the brink of bankruptcy.”

That story gave the Butler board pause, fearing the Rockwell collection and other art assets owned by the Boy Scouts could be tied up in a lengthy bankruptcy proceeding, and The Butler could lose a $100,000 down payment it agreed to make to house and display the collection.

The agreement did not include acquisition of the $130 million collection.

On Jan. 11, the Butler board voted to table the agreement with the Boy Scouts.

In a letter to trustees, John A. Anderson, director of the Foundation Medici, described the decision as “asinine,” according to Tribune Chronicle, and suggested the foundation could withhold future support for the Trumbull Branch.

Cavalier issued a lengthy statement in an attempt to set the record straight. Here is the full text:

“Historically, and as a matter of practice, the Butler’s Board of Trustees does not discuss private board deliberations outside of the board room. However, given the current publicity surrounding the board’s decision to delay our previously agreed upon arrangement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) regarding their Norman Rockwell collection and numerous other works of art by lesser-known artists, we find it necessary to respond and help clarify the board’s position.

Several months ago, the BSA contacted the Butler along with two other museums to discuss their desire to find a museum to place on exhibit, store, and insure their art collection of some 300 paintings including about 70 Norman Rockwell works of art. After visiting the Butler and meeting with Dr. Lou Zona, our executive director, they chose the Butler over the other museums.

In the ensuing months we entered into negotiations. Given the perceived benefits to the Butler and the community as a whole, we agreed to the Butler’s payment of an upfront amount of $100,000 to BSA, carting & shipping costs, and insurance on the entire collection and storage for the period of the collection’s loan to the Butler. The BSA wanted this arrangement to run for possibly up to a two-year period. After two years there would be discussions regarding a possible extension of the arrangement.

A few weeks after we came to this agreement, an article appeared in The Wall Street Journal which discussed past BSA sexual assault claims and the possibility that state law statutes of limitations related to child sexual abuse could be eliminated or greatly extended.

This news raised a red flag [because] the article said that one of the options the BSA is considering in an attempt to protect their assets is Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The board’s finance committee to review and discuss this potential event and its possible impact upon the Butler.

A primary concern was that if we sent our check for $100,000 and the BSA did enter into bankruptcy, we would have a difficult time recovering the funds. In addition, if we were to take possession of the paintings, we may have to send them back as they are an asset of the BSA.

Another issue was how this resurrected news of child abuse would play out with the Butler’s new arrangement with the BSA.  At that finance committee meeting we learned that the BSA was now willing to take the $100,000 payment off the table. However, after much discussion, the committee felt the Butler needed to proceed deliberately and with caution.

The finance committee reported this to the board at our last board meeting on January 11. The Butler trustees discussed at length the pros and cons of the arrangement with the BSA, including all that would be involved with a possible quick return of over 300 paintings and the burden it would place on our staff given all the activities being planned for the Butler’s 100th Anniversary this year.

The Butler board of trustees carried out its fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of the Butler and voted overwhelmingly to delay any arrangement with the BSA involving their art collection at this time.

Although it is not an exhaustive explanation of several months’ worth of discussion, it is hoped that this statement will provide some additional insight from the perspective of the Butler’s board of trustees.”

Pictured at top: Norman Rockwell’s “A Friend in Need.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.