Letter: Museum clearly violated intentions of Zenas Crane
For a glimpse into the heart, soul, mind and intentions of Berkshire Museum founder, Zenas Crane, one only has to go a few steps from the museum to the Berkshire Athenaeum where early museum reports are kept and open to the public. Those reports lay out how Mr. Crane spent the last decade and a half of his life planning, building, expanding, and filling the museum with many valuable treasures, particularly paintings.
If there is any doubt as to whether Mr. Crane intended paintings to be central to the museum, that doubt should be dispelled with this single example:
"The museum this past year has sustained a great loss, and it is with deep sorrow that we record the death on December 17, 1917, of the Hon. Zenas Crane, the friend and donor of the Museum of Natural History and Art. He not only gave the Museum to Pittsfield, but he took an active interest in it and was continually adding to its treasures, rare and costly articles. He was deeply interested in art, especially paintings, and his collection of Old Masters ranks as high as many collections in larger Museums. The gallery of Early American artists was opened last July, under his personal supervision, the portraits having been procured by him for the Museum and they are not only educational in value as showing some of our great early Americans, but the modern artist is given opportunity to study some fine examples of eminent American artists of the older school: Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, Rembrandt Peale and others." (1918 Annual Reports for Berkshire Athenaeum and Museum pp. 11-12)
The same report states that Mr. Crane donated "16 portraits by early American artists" in the final year of his life. Clearly, Mr. Crane spent a great deal of time, thought, money and effort painstakingly seeking out paintings for the museum.
About 40 years after the death of Mr. Crane, Norman Rockwell would graciously donate two of his finest paintings to the museum furthering founder Crane's goal of paintings serving as examples for "the modern artist" who would be afforded the "opportunity to study some fine examples of eminent American artists..."
The writer was born and grew up in Pittsfield.
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