JAMESTOWN – The James Prendergast Library simply cannot afford to house or display it’s shrinking art collection, according to the library’s executive director.
“I will say the library is unable to care for them properly and that’s a point that doesn’t seem to be (being made),” Library Executive Director Tina Scott told WNYNewsNow.
While the library continues to struggle with a “devastating” $300,000 funding cut from the City of Jamestown over the last two years, the library art collection will remain up for auction until sold, according to Thomas Rankin, President of the Prendergast Library Board of Trustees.
The library board is expected to discuss the auctions at it’s board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
But the collection of Prendergast family portraits and the family homestead were never in danger of being sold and will be displayed in the future, Rankin said.
“We have never intended to sell the collection of paintings that are on the Prendergast Family or the Prendergast Homestead,” Rankin said. “Those remain with the library and we hopefully will have those on display the next few months in the Fireplace Room.”
This year’s library budget looks a bit different with the City of Jamestown cutting its share of funding from $350,000 to $100,000 for 2017 and $50,000 for 2018.
Efforts to keep the art collection in Jamestown were made by former residents now living in Texas. Jess and Cathy Marion apparently offered to match Southeby’s $1.17 million valuation of the art collection, according to Tom Andolora, a former resident who has been monitoring the sale of the paintings. Scott said the library was working with the Marions to seek a solution but its hands were tied by its nonprofit status.
“They wanted to come up with an agreement that would be acceptable to everyone. It came down to the Attorney General’s decision,” Scott said.
Andolora said he understands that the Marions agreed to restore and clean all art and frames, as needed. They also apparently offered to rebuild the library’s fireplace room to house the collection, including climate control and security. In addition, Jess Marion would chair a committee to raise money for the library, foundation Andolora said.
Efforts to reach the Marions for comment were unsuccessful. At one point, prior to the ruling that the sale must be through an auction house, the Marions were looking at housing the collection in a new art gallery in Jamestown, Andolora said.
Budget cuts at the local level lead to budget cuts system-wide, Scott explained.
“The state library wants to see community support. Cuts of over 5 percent over two years leads to a 25 percent cut in funding of all libraries within that system,” Scott said. “They want to know that your community wants the library there.”
Rankin said the state Surrogate Court determined the paintings could be sold at auction after reviewing the century-old will of Mary Prendergast, which stated the painting should forever be displayed in the library. The Court, Rankin said, needed to clarify and approve any sales.
In the final will of Mary Prendergast, she codified conditions for buying and maintaining the art collection.
The paintings were to be purchased for the library collection “upon a proper assurance by said trustees that the said oil paintings shall be forever kept preserved and properly and suitably displayed in the library building in the said association in the said city of Jamestown,” the will states.
“We have never intended to sell the collection of paintings that are on the Prendergast Family or the Prendergast Homestead,” Rankin said. Those remain with the library and we hopefully will have those on display the next few months in the Fireplace Room.”
“We have this collection and no matter who was going to buy the collection, we needed permission from the Surrogate Court, Judge Cass, in order to sell the collection,” Rankin said.
Any paintings not sold at the upcoming auctions will likely be placed back on the auction block until they are eventually sold, Rankin explained. Sotheby’s is auctioning the more valuable paintings while those expected to bring less are being auctioned by Stair Galleries.
The library cannot slash service hours if it wishes to remain a community library, Scott said.
“In order to be a library in a community our size we are required to be open 55 hours a week and that’s the hours we are open,” Scott said. “While we can fund-raise until the cows come home, as they say, we’re a small community. You can’t make up that big a deficit.”
Rankin said the money derived from the paintings’ auction will be used to work for the library.
“The proceeds from these auctions will go to the library and we’ll put that in our endowment so that money will work for us for many, many years to come,” Rankin said. “If there are some paintings that don’t sell at auction for whatever reason, well we’ll probably put them up for auction again at a different time and hopefully they’ll sell at that point.”