Our Towns

Trumbull Branch Splits with Butler over Rockwell Paintings

HOWLAND TOWNSHIP — The plan to display 66 Norman Rockwell paintings at what would become an independent, much larger museum here is more artful than exhibited on any agreement with the Boy Scouts of America or donor pledge forms.

That hasn’t deterred the Foundation Medici, which built and funds operations of the Trumbull Branch of the Butler Institute of American Art at 9350 E. Market St., from making what appears to be an angry break from the celebrated Youngstown institution, which this year is celebrating its 100th year.

Nor does the Foundation Medici have the museum industry certifications necessary to house major works of art that a collection appraised at $100 million – the 66 Rockwell paintings — would most likely demand.

“Good question. That will be researched and determined in due course,” says the president of the Foundation Medici, John A. Anderson.

The first good question, also unanswered, is whether the Boy Scouts of America would agree to consign the collection to the foundation, particularly in light of its sexual abuse scandal. In late May, records the Boy Scouts released to Congress counted 12,254 children allegedly abused by 7,819 Scout leaders. Sales of the Rockwell paintings, a $100 million asset, could pay for related legal fees, damage settlements and put the 100-year old organization on solid financial footing for years to come.

Norman Rockwell’s “A Friend in Need.” Rockwell, who died in 1978, was the official artist of the Boy Scouts.

That’s why The Butler Institute’s Board of Directors backed off from its agreement to house and display the Rockwell paintings for a two-year term, a decision made in January after the option of Chapter 11 bankruptcy was raised by the Boy Scouts. At the time, the Butler had agreed to pay $100,000 for the consignment plus the cost of transporting and insuring the collection.

What’s unknown today is what museums, if any, are competing for the paintings. The Butler bested two established museums for temporary display rights. Wonders Thomas J. Cavalier, president of the Butler board, “If two other museums were interested in it before, why haven’t they landed it?”

None of this worries Anderson or apparently the Foundation Medici’s four-member board, which voted unanimously with one abstention, he confirms, to sever ties with the Butler and go it alone.

Qualified staff would need to be hired, annual operating costs would have to be computed and a budget created.

“I do not know that number but I hope to learn it with the cooperation of The Butler,” Anderson says. “I suspect we will be spending more than what we paid because we expect to achieve more than the Butler has.”

The Trumbull Butler Branch would take on a new name and a new marketing partner, Avalon Holdings Corp., based in Howland. The owner of the nearby Avalon Inn and Resort, 9519 E. Market St., has agreed to “gratuitously” market the facility and the Boy Scouts collection, Anderson says, to resort guests, the scouting community and general public.

“With Medici and Avalon working together, the new independent museum will become a success and a popular destination,” says Ron Klingle, Avalon chairman and CEO, in a prepared statement contained in the foundation’s news release that announced its separation from the Butler.

Anderson says once the Rockwell collection is secured, the foundation will prepare for construction of a major addition to the building, which will include a classroom, workshop, more display areas and a larger gift shop. A major fundraising campaign would follow.

Asked the total assets of the foundation, all he would say is “it’s a strong seven-digit number.”

The lease agreement with the Butler provides the foundation with the right to terminate with a six-month written notice. A letter notifying the museum of the foundation’s intention arrived June 17. Informal discussions ensued among members of both boards and the Butler’s executive director, Lou Zona. The news release announcing the separation was distributed Friday but not to the Butler board.

“We thought we might be ale to turn this around,” says Cavalier. “We’re proud of what the Butler has done there. Lou Zona made sure every couple of months there was a fresh new exhibit, which is important for a museum,” Cavalier says.

Adds Zona, “We were hoping to have a conversation before the full board and discuss the issues. I’m hoping that it’s still open and as far as I’m concerned, it still is. It hasn’t been resolved.”

“It’s a done deal,” Anderson insists.

The six-month termination clause “may in itself result in the [Boy Scouts] making the decision to choose one of the many other museums across the country that had been competing for the artwork,” the foundation said in its release. “As a result, Medici’s board of directors, knowing that time is of the essence, is asking the Butler to waive this lease provision.”

The Butler board’s executive committee is not scheduled to meet until late July. Among the issues it must review is removing the art installations it owns, including panel art and sculptures, and possible reduction in staff.

“It’s going to take some time. As much as we are disappointed and saddened by this decision, we just have to wish them well,” Cavalier says.

“As good as Norman Rockwell was, unless you keep the exhibits fresh, that could become stale,” he cautions. “They’re going to have a hard time of it.”

Zona says the Butler has managed the Trumbull Branch “in accordance with the vision of the founder, Max Draime,” who died in 2006. “He would be very pleased with the range of exhibits we had there and the way we’ve operated the facility. And his son, Jeff, is very supportive of what we’ve done.”

Anderson acknowledges Jeff Draime opposes separating from the Butler.

“He has been invited and at one time agreed to meet with me but has refused to do so,” Anderson says. “There is nothing I can do about that other than to camp on his doorstep and I suspect he would be totally indignant about that.”

Draime could not be reached for comment.

“It is my hope once the vitriol settles and wiser minds begin to prevail that the Medici facility in Howland could be a cooperative partner with the Butler and exhibit some of the things in the butler collection which have never seen the light of day in Howland,” Anderson says.

“That perhaps is pie in the sky.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.