Berkshire Museum (copy) (copy)

Leaders of the Berkshire Museum’s sale of artworks in 2018, who no longer are in their posts, defended the move, during a symposium last week at Syracuse University.

RICHMOND — So many stories to tell.

There’s the memory of a night at Shakespeare & Company when Tina Packer came onstage and, in her inimitable style, told the audience she needed five big trees — big, she said, meaning expensive — and wondered if anyone would like to buy one to enhance the company’s Lenox grounds. Many more than five hands shot up. Tina had just added one more (small, this time) notch to her Shakespeare-saving, fundraising belt.

Susan Wissler can tell the story of arriving at The Mount in the mid-2000s when author Edith Wharton’s historic home was in dire straits financially. Many said it couldn’t be done, but Wissler’s story is of rousing Wharton devotees all over the country to get funds for not only saving the house, but restoring the author-designed gardens. Today, from the unusual grass stairs to the walled garden, The Mount is thriving on a growth in visitors and an increase in events (free and otherwise).

Pleasant Valley Sanctuary can tell the story of anxiety over the future of its historic barn, a 1790 structure that has long been the center of Mass Audubon’s activities at the Lenox site. Ensuring the stability of the barn and adding to it was a $1.1 million project, a definite reach. The town of Lenox pitched in, and sanctuary lovers answered the call. The project is nearly done, with only a small amount of money still needed.

The Berkshire Humane Society can tell its story of opening in 1992 as a private, nonprofit animal shelter after the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced that it was withdrawing its support for a Berkshire shelter. The community rallied to maintain the old shelter on Cadwell Road, and within a short time, Berkshire Humane garnered support for its state-of-the-art building on Barker Road.

Berkshire Natural Resources can tell so many stories of lands conserved, trails rebuilt, mountaintops kept free of development because of public support of its environmental goals. Not the least of them involves the town of Richmond and the private Richmond Land Trust, as the three joined in preserving nearly 400 acres of land around Perry’s Peak in Richmond.

One of these days, Jacob’s Pillow will tell the story of generous backing received from people who mourn the loss by fire of the Doris Duke Theatre and want to see it rebuilt.

Just as not all firsthand witnesses see the same thing, not everyone’s version of a story agrees. In Berkshire County, a large number of residents can tell a story of their shock and dismay when learning that the Berkshire Museum trustees were selling a large number of its art treasures because the museum was running out of money.

Part of the shock was that the negotiations had taken place in secret, with papers signed before the plan reached daylight. The sale included Norman Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” given to the museum by the artist personally, plus works by Alexander Calder.

The trustees told a story of enormous deficits for operations and repairs, plus their commitment to director Van Shields’ expensive vision for future changes. More recently, at a symposium at Syracuse University, former trustees Chairwoman Elizabeth McGraw told an intriguing tale of a “small regional museum in a county of aging individuals where there are over 1,000 nonprofits, that are all vying for the same funding.” She didn’t mention that the trustees didn’t cry for help before signing away ownership of treasures.

McGraw’s story at Syracuse also included her statement that “productive conversations just cannot happen when there is this pervasive meanness that overhangs every existential issue like this … .” Admittedly, McGraw was the focus of personal attacks, but not because of “meanness.” The protesters’ response was mainly hurt and outrage at learning that, in secret, they had been betrayed by an institution that was important to them.

Van Shields’ story at the symposium included the comment that he was “not sure what has caused what I would call an irrational response.” He said the museum “lost control of the narrative … because every conversation was smothered by the conversation about selling the art.”

Outsiders, including Berkshire Eagle reporters, would tell a story of a lack of conversation, of stonewalling when it came to answering questions.

We all have our stories.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist Her web site is ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.