Howland museum says goodbye to The Butler

Dispute centers around Boys Scouts collection

By William K. Alcorn


A disagreement on whether to house a multimillion-dollar collection of Boy Scouts of America original works by renowned artist Norman Rockwell has caused the Trumbull Branch of the Butler Institute of American Art to sever ties with the Youngstown-based Butler.

The board of directors of Foundation Medici, which operates the Trumbull branch, notified the Butler it is terminating its lease agreement between the two entities.

The nonprofit Medici provided the land and most of the funding for the Trumbull branch, which would become a standalone museum.

In a news release from Medici, the lease provides The Butler with rights to operate a satellite location at the Howland property 9350 E. Market St. owned by Medici. It contains a provision for either party to terminate the lease upon providing the other with a six-month written notice.

Medici said it made the decision to terminate the lease based upon the Butler board reneging upon an agreement that had been reached with the BSA for the art museum to become indefinite custodian of 66 Norman Rockwell original paintings, all of which have a Boy Scout theme.

Medici believes the Butler board’s decision to indefinitely postpone the acceptance of the Rockwell collection could result in the BSA giving the artwork to one of the many other museums interested in receiving the collection.

Atty. Ned Gold, a member of the Butler board and key to negotiating the deal to bring the Rockwell collection to Youngstown and Howland, said Saturday it would be good for the museum and the community.

The Butler, after initially agreeing to custodianship of the collection, valued at more than $100 million, decided to table the request after a Wall Street Journal story in December 2018 reported the BSA was exploring all options, including filing for bankruptcy, to protect itself from potential sexual-assault claims.

In a January story in The Vindicator, Butler board officials expressed concern that if the Butler sent $100,000 to BSA and it did end up in bankruptcy, the Butler would have a difficult time recovering its funds. If the Butler took possession of the paintings, it might have to send them back because they are an asset of BSA.

Louis Zona, executive director of the Butler, was not available for comment Saturday.

“We still have an opportunity to get the Rockwell collection,” Gold said. “We are dealing with BSA right now. We just cannot let this opportunity slip out of our hands ... to cavalierly toss it aside.

“The Butler is one of the finest venues in the nation. We are very fortunate to have it in the [Mahoning] Valley. The Butler board acted in what it thought was in its best interest, and others believe it’s in the best interest of the community to have this collection,” Gold said.

“I knew [Foundation] Medici was unhappy about delaying. It’s a difference of opinion,” Thomas Cavalier, president of the Butler board, said Saturday. “We erred on side of caution. We are saddened by the decision to separate. We believe The Butler has brought many fresh and new exhibits to the Trumbull branch. We wish them well,” Cavalier said.

John A. Anderson, former member of The Butler board and a member of Foundation Medici, said, “It is our intention to go after the collection that The Butler rejected. I was extremely disappointed in The Butler board. That collection would have extreme value in usage of the facility.

“I have every reason to be very hopeful that we will get the collection. And, when all the vitriol settles down, it would be my fervent hope that we could hang works from The Butler if it is open to it,” Anderson said.

The Medici news release also announced a new relationship with Avalon Holdings Corp., owner of the Avalon Inn and Resort and numerous country club locations in the area.

Ron Klingle, chairman and CEO of Avalon said, “The Howland facility provides a perfect venue to showcase the Rockwell collection. Avalon can easily assist in promoting the collection.”

In the news release, Medici gave a special thanks to Zona for everything he has done for The Butler and the Howland branch.

Medici said, however, its decision to terminate the lease provides both entities with the ability “to act in their own best interests.”

Anderson said in the news release if the Rockwell collection is secured, Medici is prepared to begin construction of a major addition to the Howland museum.

The new addition will include a classroom and workshop, significantly increased display areas for the art collection and a larger gift shop.