Buried in the fine print of a document presented as part of the The bankruptcy of Boy Scouts of America last week is a brief mention of a potentially huge asset: “Rockwell’s original paintings.”
The revelation that the organization owns works by Norman Rockwell, the American painter and illustrator, is no surprise since the artist and the Scouts have been linked for more than a century. But the recognition of those valuable assets, potentially worth millions to creditors, could trigger a legal fight for their future.
Since the Boy Scouts estimate that they will face about 1,700 lawsuits for alleged sexual abuse dating back decades, the nonprofit is under pressure to sell their property to pay the victims. By declaring bankruptcy, the organization has tried to provide a way to carry out that process in an orderly manner.
The Boys Scouts of America declined to comment for this story.
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While the group is They are expected to argue that real estate owned by local Scout councils is not part of bankruptcy, and therefore did not include local property in their initial court filings, mentioning the work of art that seems to be admitting that their collection could Be at risk of liquidation. to satisfy the creditors.
The decision could be tense for the Boy Scouts. The well-defined image of the group arose in part from the hand of Rockwell, who created works of art by explorers saluting, serving and venturing to the covers of “Boys’ Life”, the organization’s magazine, for more than half a century..
The Scouts joined bankrupt institutions of the past, such as Polaroid and the city of Detroit, which faced pressure to sell precious works of art to pay off debts.
The federal bankruptcy judge appointed to oversee the Scout case may be forced to decide whether the proceeds should be sold if the debtor and creditors cannot reach an agreement.
“The tension between the law and these emotional connections that sustain and support the institution in many ways is a very real problem for the court,” said Houlihan Lokey CEO Steve Spencer, a restructuring consultant who has advised the Companies on the subject. Potential sale of art in multiple bankruptcies.
Nicholas O’Donnell, leader of the art and museum group at the Sullivan Law Firm and author of The Art Law Report blog said it will be a “hard argument to make” that the Boy Scouts be allowed to keep the paintings. But that does not mean that the organization does not try.
“There is already the tension of ‘Yes, something terrible happened, but do we have to stretch the hamstrings of the United States in the future” and, therefore, leave the organization without the valuable assets it may need in the future? ” , Said. regarding these images, which are so closely associated with the Boy Scouts, that you will see a lot of reaction in that. “
How much could Rockwell’s paintings be worth?
The record sale at an auction of a Rockwell painting was $ 46 million for “Saying Grace,” a piece of oil on canvas depicting a mealtime prayer that Rockwell painted in 1951, according to the auction house Sotheby’s New York
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A painting of that value would be worth more than the most valuable national property of the Boy Scouts, its extensive Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, which the organization estimated is worth $ 40.1 million.
Sotheby’s, which sold “Saying Grace” in 2013, declined to comment further on the value of the artist’s work or the Boy Scout collection.
Rockwell’s works continue to obtain premium values, said Barbara J. Sussman, an accredited member of the American Society of Appraisers.
Sussman, who has evaluated Rockwell’s art before, including “substantial value” works with explorers, refused to speculate on the value of the Boy Scout collection. But she said that about eight Rockwell paintings sold for “several million” dollars, while “a few” sold for about a million and many sold for hundreds of thousands.
“Norman Rockwell is really an American icon,” Sussman said. “It hits people’s hearts when they see it. Their images resonate with nostalgia.”
Art lovers and tourists will soon have the opportunity to examine the collection to evaluate it for themselves.
In an agreement made long before bankruptcy, the collection is ready to be displayed at the Medici Art Museum in Howland, Ohio, beginning March 22, under the name “Norman Rockwell: American Scouting Collection.”
The Boy Scout fine arts collection includes more than 350 pieces, including 65 original Rockwell works, as well as articles by Rockwell mentor JCLeyendecker and Rockwell’s apprentice Joseph Csatari, museum spokeswoman Beth Kotwis-Carmichael wrote in a Email to USA TODAY.
“The museum staff is in the early stages of the inspection of the collection, which includes paintings, drawings and prints,” said Kotwis-Carmichael.
Kotwis-Carmichael sent questions about the value of the collection to the Boy Scouts, who rejected multiple requests to provide more information.
Why is art at risk of selling bankruptcy?
If past bankruptcies involving art are an indication, items could be sold:
- Polaroid: In Polaroid’s second bankruptcy, filed in 2008, the debtor reaped millions of dollars from the sale of thousands of photos taken by Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, William Wegman and others, Spencer said.
- Detroit city: In the largest bankruptcy of Chapter 9 in the history of the United States, filed in 2013, the city’s Detroit Institute of Arts owned masterpieces by artists such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse. Estimates of the value of the collection ranged from about $ 8 billion, and creditors pressured the city to consider selling art to pay off debts. But the collection was eventually preserved as part of a commitment that included philanthropic contributions and state dollars, which were used instead of money from painting sales to limit the level of pension cuts.
- Johnson Publishing Co.: The one-time editor of the “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy settlement in April 2019, recently auctioned off his collection of paintings, drawings and other works of art. The company also sold its historic photographic archive to a consortium of philanthropic organizations that plan to donate the items to museums and research groups.
In Chapter 11 bankruptcies as in the case of the Boy Scouts, debtors have a legal obligation to consider selling their assets, including art, to pay their creditors, Spencer said.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse seeking compensation from the Boy Scouts, said it is too early to say if creditors will seek liquidation of the art.
“I think it will depend on how honest the Boy Scouts of America are,” he said, asking the organization to reveal what he claimed was the full extent of the sexual abuse that occurred during the last decades. “If they are looking to be clean … then they won’t have any problems, I’m pretty sure, preserving things like that.”
In previous bankruptcies involving Catholic dioceses, victims of abuse did not seek liquidation of precious religious relics, Anderson said.
“We said that is completely off limits,” said Anderson, who represented the victims in some of those cases of the Catholic church.
But “these,” he said, referring to Rockwell’s paintings, “we could not say that they are automatically out of bounds.”
Rockwell had personal ties with Boy Scouts
The emotional connection between the Boy Scouts and Rockwell, who died in 1978 at age 84, is profound.
Rockwell was first hired by the Boy Scouts to create a series of pen and ink drawings for the “Boy Scout’s Hike Book” and was named art editor for “Boys’ Life,” Scouts magazine, at age 19, according to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
At age 22 in 1916, he began working for “The Saturday Evening Post”, at which time he quit his salaried work in “Boys’ Life. “But he continued to include the Scouts in his artwork, including the images on the cover of” The Saturday Evening Post. ”
And in 1925, he returned to work with the Boy Scouts, creating 51 annual illustrations for the Boy Scout calendar. It is not clear if these illustrations are part of the group’s collection.
In 2018, the Norman Rockwell Museum presented the artist’s 64-year relationship with the Boy Scouts in a special exhibition.
The museum’s spokeswoman, Alyssa Stuble, declined to comment on the Rockwell collection of the Boy Scouts.
“Technically we cannot answer questions about paintings that are not in our collection and of which we know relatively little because they are not under our care,” he said.
Sussman, the appraiser of fine arts who evaluated Rockwell’s works, said the artist’s work continues to attract collectors because of its “surprising freshness and spontaneity,” as well as its quality.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.