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Library Board Approves Auction Agreement To Sell Art Collection

Pictured is Bill Locke, Save The Art member, speaking against the proposal by the James Prendergast Library Association to auction oil paints purchased by funding left by Mary Prendergast’s will. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

Sotheby’s of New York has been approved once again by the James Prendergast Board of Trustees to handle the auction of oil paintings purchased by funding left by Mary Prendergast’s will.

On Thursday, the library board unanimously approved a resolution cosigning the bulk of the art collection to Sotheby’s. After the meeting, R. Thomas Rankin, library board president, said the paintings will be physically transferred to New York City to Sotheby’s facility to be cleaned up for the auction, which will take place later this year.

There will be several separate auctions, with the first one occurring the first week of October, Rankin said. He said the library board should be able to announce the dates for the auctions by the end of the summer.

Rankin said three different auction houses looked at the paintings, with the board selecting Sotheby’s to handle the auction. He said the library will incur no cost from the sale of the paintings, which means 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of each painting will be returned to the library. Last month, Tina Scott, library executive director, said the artwork was estimated to be worth $1.2 million-$1.6 million in 2015.

Prior to approving Sotheby’s to handle the auction, 10 people spoke to the board about the art sale during the public comment period. Of the 10 speakers, nine were against the sale of the art collection. Several of the speakers were members of Save The Art, which formed back in 2015 when the library first hired Sotheby’s to handle the art auction.

Bill Locke, Save The Art member, of Dewittville said it is unfortunate the library has such weak leadership that they need to sell the art in order to keep the library operational. He called for each library board member to resign.

Roberta Thompson, Save The Art chairwoman, asked the library board to work with Save The Art to still possibly save the oil paintings. She called on the library board to continue working with Jesse and Cathy Marion of Houston, Texas.

In December 2015, the board approved a proposal from the Marions that they would not auction any of the oil paintings from the Prendergast will or estate or from the Packard family in exchange for $60,000 in 2016. Rankin said, in December 2015, library officials would focus their attention in 2016, with the help of the Marions and the art community, on finding community-minded individuals or organizations that would want to buy the oil painting collection to keep it in Jamestown. Rankin said last month that no individuals or organizations from Chautauqua County ever approached the library board with an offer to keep the art local.

According to an op-ed from Save The Art that was printed in The Post-Journal June 13, the Marion’s made a purchase offer of $1,170,000 to the library board for the art collection last fall. However, a ruling from the state Attorney General’s Office prevented the sale from happening.

Last month, the board approved an agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office to hire a qualified auction house to sell the oil paintings in the library’s art collection. Rankin said, last month, the deal with the Attorney General’s Office stems from the petition filed Sept. 16, 2015, by the James Prendergast Library Association with 8th Judicial District Surrogate Court Judge Stephen Cass. At the time, library officials filed the petition to obtain legal approval to sell art housed at the library. The oil paintings were purchased following the death of library founder Mary Prendergast in 1889. Prendergast left $25,000 to the executor of her will to purchase art for the library.

Rankin said the state Attorney General’s Office has oversight in New York state over nonprofit entities, like the library, and when the library board filed the petition for surrogate court’s permission to sell the artwork, the Attorney General’s Office was notified. The attorney general would only consent to a sale of the art collection if the library agreed to use an auction house that could market the collection nationally and internationally.

On Thursday, one person did speak in favor of the art sale. Jeff Holroyd of Jamestown said the library does not have a curator to look after the art. Also, the Fireplace Room, where some of the oil paintings hang, is not the proper facility or environment to keep fine art.

Holroyd said if local taxpayers in the Jamestown Public School District had approved the local funding initiative for the library last June the library board wouldn’t have needed to sell the art. Holroyd said he actively campaigned for the funding initiative. Last year, the $850,000 library funding initiative proposition was turned down by 60 percent of the vote.

“I sympathize with the folks who want to keep the collection,” Rankin said Thursday. “We really needed to help ourselves to keep the doors open.”

Rankin said the library also took a hit financially when the city of Jamestown cut their funding by 71 percent for 2017. The city funded the library $100,000 this year, which was decreased from $350,000 in 2016.

In other business, the library board approved Todd Thomas as a new member.

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