Berkshire Museum Ends Smithsonian Partnership Following Art Sale Controversy

Norman Rockwell, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop.
Norman Rockwell, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop.
(Berkshire Museum)
  • Frederic Church, Valley of the Santa Ysabel, 1875.

    Frederic Church, Valley of the Santa Ysabel, 1875.

    Berkshire Museum

  • Albert Bierstadt, Giant Redwood Trees of California, circa 1874.

    Albert Bierstadt, Giant Redwood Trees of California, circa 1874.

    Berkshire Museum

The Berkshire Eagle reports that the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., will cut ties with the Smithsonian in a mutual decision stemming from the controversy over its plan to deaccession artworks.

Berkshire Museum was a Smithsonian affiliate since 2013, allowing for reciprocal admissions benefits with other affiliates and Smithsonian resources.

A July board decision to refocus the Berkshire Museum with a $60 million Reinvention Plan includes boosting endowment from the sale of artworks from its collections and renovating its building. The museum plans to sell 40 works at Sotheby's for an estimated $50 million, including two paintings by local artist Norman Rockwell, "Shuffleton’s Barbershop" and "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop," along with top-tier works by Alexander Calder, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, George Henry Durrie, and others. Opposition from local art fans and museum professionals has been outspoken.

Subsequent discussions with the Smithsonian over the decision led the Berkshire to withdraw its affiliation, citing issues with compliance to American Alliance of Museum's guidelines for the use of proceeds. 

"One of the most fundamental and long-standing principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset," wrote American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors in an open letter to Berkshire Museum.

"Two of the works the Museum is currently planning to sell are important paintings by Norman Rockwell, given by the artist to the people of Pittsfield," the statement says. "These works were entrusted by Rockwell to the Museum for safe-keeping and to share with the public. The other works proposed for sale are by many noted artists from America and around the world. If these works are indeed sold, it would be an irredeemable loss for the present and for generations to come."

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