Attorney General Asks Court to Halt Berkshire Museum Sale

A photo of a statue. The photo was taken inside the Berkshire Museum.

The Berkshire Museum, located in Pittsfield, MA.
Photo courtesy of Amy Meredith via Flickr Creative Commons.

Back in July, the Berkshire Museum announced that it would be selling 40 of its most highly prized possessions in order to fund renovations, expand its endowment, and pursue a “New Vision” plan in which the institution would focus more on tech-driven exhibitions related to science and nature.

The works, valued at $50 million, are scheduled to be sold at Sotheby’s in New York on November 13. But that sale will never go through if Norman Rockwell’s three sons and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office have anything to do with it.

On Oct. 20, Rockwell’s sons and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Berkshire Museum, with the goal of impeding the sale by obtaining a temporary restraining order. The suit alleges that the museum is not authorized to dispose of the works, since that decision violates the intent of the original donors. Furthermore, it alleges that the museum’s trustees failed to properly assess the institution’s fiscal status and to craft an appropriate plan.

Elizabeth McGraw, president of the museum’s board of trustees, disagrees.

“We believe we have strong legal grounds for our deaccessioning and we are confident in our New Vision plan which will allow this important local museum to continue to contribute to the educational and cultural life of this region for another century,” McGraw said in a statement delivered through a spokesperson.

William F. Lee, the museum’s attorney, called the suit “factually and legally flawed.”

But on Oct. 30, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office submitted its own legal filing, calling for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction while they further investigate the case. The attorney general’s office said it had “significant questions and concerns” regarding the legality of the sale.

The Massachusetts Superior Court will hold a hearing on a possible injunction on Wednesday, November 1 at 11 a.m.

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