Letter: An existential threat to our cultural heritage
In July of 2016, my wife and I visited the Berkshire Museum specifically to see the Norman Rockwell paintings in its collection. I have been an admirer of the great illustrator's work since I was a teenager. In the summer of 1973 I wrote to Mr. Rockwell to inquire about his painting methods and techniques. I was an aspiring young artist in those days, living in Louisiana.
In October 1973, Norman Rockwell replied. The gracious man even returned my letter along with his letter. I treasured those pieces of correspondence for more than two decades. In 1995, I donated the letters to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, believing that they belonged with the legacy of Mr. Rockwell, not with me. I cannot imagine my anguish had I instead lost them in a fire (which I had in 2007) or if I had chosen to donate them to the Berkshire Museum, as Mr. Rockwell did with his treasured paintings.
This raises an important question. Presumably, many types of items have been donated to the Berkshire Museum over the years. Items that aren't paintings or sculptures, but things similar to my letters that have historical significance. What is to become of them? If any such items concerning Norman Rockwell were donated, are they destined to disappear into private hands, also? My letters were donated to the Norman Rockwell Museum specifically because I believed they would be accessible to researchers and to the general public, just as Mr. Rockwell believed his paintings would remain accessible forever in an institution named after his beloved Berkshires.
Today, you and I can still see the correspondence that I was blessed to have with Norman Rockwell in the archives of the museum that bears his name. "But for how long," is the nagging question the action of the Berkshire Museum compels me and perhaps many other donors to museums across this country to ask.
The name of the Berkshire Museum will forever be synonymous with an existential threat to our cultural heritage. It casts an ominous pall over collections in all institutions. Today, our public treasures are said to be sacred. Tomorrow, with a change of leadership, trustees, demographic, or "vision," our treasures are for sale to the highest bidder.
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