Beaufort History Museum art auction proceeds donated to town 5 years later
Five years after the fact, money from a Beaufort History Museum art auction has been returned to the city, but Mayor Billy Keyserling says there’s a problem: l he art belonged to the city and should never have been sold by the Beaufort Historical Foundation.
“It is a mistake that it was sold without the owner being aware of it, and there is a moral issue if an individual gave a work of art and that person was not notified as well,” did he declare.
City officials learned of the sale more than a year ago when foundation representatives requested a meeting to discuss what to do with the money.
“I was very happy and grateful that they found this quote, error, quote-free,” Keyserling said. “…I think it was a mistake. It wasn’t a crime, it was a misstep.”
‘THE ATTIC OF BEAUFORT’
In December, the town received a check for $42,000 from the foundation, which managed the collection of art and historical artifacts in Beaufort and elsewhere from 2001 to 2008. Only a portion of the collection – mostly paintings, sketches, prints and a statue – was sold, according to an auction receipt.
“Why it took so long, I don’t know,” said the foundation’s former president, Pete Palmer. “There was no cute game. (The money) was still isolated, and it was clearly marked in our accounts as proceeds from the sale of artifacts that were unrelated to Beaufort and weren’t the property of the historic foundation.”
Palmer said some members of the foundation’s board had hoped the city would let the foundation keep the money for historic preservation projects. That possibility was discussed at the meeting, but Keyserling and City Manager Scott Dadson opposed it, he said.
Maxine Lutz, now executive director of the foundation, was an assistant during the sale of works of art. She said the city has authorized the foundation to manage the collection as it sees fit.
The museum‘s collection included some odd items donated by residents from their collections and home trips. Many items had no direct connection to the area beyond the fact that Beaufort residents once owned them. The collection included, for example, a shrunken head, stuffed wild animals and pieces of marble believed to have come from the Colosseum in Rome.
“It was really the buildup of Beaufort’s travels,” Lutz said. “It was Beaufort’s attic.”
Some of the items, however, were not mere trinkets. Several paintings fetched thousands of dollars each at auction.
On May 15, 2008, Elizabeth Garrett Ryan, then director of the museum, recommended to the foundation’s museums committee that objects that “are not within the scope of the foundation’s collection” be sold, according to the archives of the foundation. foundation. The sale was approved by the foundation’s executive director, Evan Thompson, and committee chair, Sally Mitchell, records show.
The foundation arranged for Brunk Auctions of Asheville, North Carolina to sell 68 works of art. Of these, 61 were part of the collection of the city-owned museum. The rest came from a collection owned by the foundation, according to handwritten notes on a statement from Brunk Auctions.
The work from both collections sold for a total of $70,625.
After the auctioneer’s 10% commission, objects from the city museum’s collection fetched $42,097.50 and objects from the foundation fetched $21,465, according to the receipt from the auction company. .
Top-selling items from the museum’s collection included a painting by Eugene Savage titled ‘Butterfly’ which sold for $14,000, a painting by William Halsey titled ‘Afterglow, Charleston’ which sold for 6 $400 and a painting by Carl Raymond Blair titled “Perennial Legend III” which sold for $5,500.
Keyserling said he had not seen the list of what had been auctioned, so he did not know the items’ links to Beaufort. But, he added, “(the objects) have a Beaufort connection in that someone from Beaufort donated them. But who cares where they came from? They belonged to the city.”
IN SEARCH OF SUCCESS
The money is in a city bank account reserved for museum use, but no decision has been made on how and when it will be spent.
Keyserling said he expects the latest group of residents trying to maintain a Beaufort museum to ask for money. For more than two years, the Beaufort History Museum association has taken care of the city’s collection.
The museum has been opened and closed several times over the past two decades – with the city, the foundation and now the group of museums trying to make it a long-term success.
Museum artifacts have been on display on the first floor of City Hall at 1911 Boundary Street for over a year. Museum board chairwoman Katherine Lang said she only heard about the auction and the money a year ago.
She said the board did not want to rush to ask for the money, but would like to see it go towards the ultimate goal of moving the museum into the Arsenal. However, any plans for the money would require city approval, she said.
The city will hold the money from the auction until the museum’s board requests it and proves it can operate a museum that will be self-sufficient and successful, Keyserling said.
“We’ve had too many false starts with the museum to invest the city’s money in it until they can prove they can survive and move forward,” he said.
Follow journalist Erin Moody on twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.
Forgotten artifacts find their way back to the Beaufort History Museum, May 11, 2012
The Beaufort History Museum Committee celebrates a year of planning, January 26, 2012
Inattention leaves many Arsenal museum artifacts in ruins or at risk, 19 June 2010
This story was originally published June 10, 2013 12:33 a.m.