Saturday, November 29, 2008

Library - Courier - Auction of Homer Paint to benefit posterity

Published in the Courier News, Thursday, November 27, 2008 (online 11/28/2008)

Plainfield hopes painting draws big bucks

By MARK SPIVEY • Staff Writer • November 28, 2008

PLAINFIELD —A young fisherman who lived in Maine more than a century ago could unwittingly wind up being among the most generous donors in Plainfield Public Library history.

He was the model who posed for Winslow Homer's "Winding Line," an approximately 16-by-23 inch oil-on-canvas painting depicting a young man untangling a fishing line while leaning against a small boat on a rocky shore. The piece is emblematic of the native Bostonian's finest work, much of which details rural life along the East Coast toward the end of the 19th century.

The painting, along with two other Homer originals, represented a centerpiece of the library's extensive Fine Arts Collection for decades. But when funding for $6 million of long-term library renovations recently fell short by about half, the library board unanimously elected to convert a masterpiece into a windfall.

The painting, which has been appraised from $2 million to $3 million, matches a 1929 Georgia O'Keefe work as the most valuable piece available in "American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture," a 184-lot auction scheduled next week at the world-renowned Sotheby's in New York City.

"We want this for the community, and they deserve the best," said library board President Anne E. Robinson. "So we did some soul searching about tailoring our assets to our mission."

According to Sotheby's auction notes, Homer, who ranks among the premier artists in American history, likely painted "Winding Line" shortly after his first trip to Prout's Neck, Maine, where he would live from 1883 until his death in 1910. A likely description of the work, the notes indicate, appears in the Nov. 6, 1875, edition of Appletons' Journal, a 19th century periodical covering literature, science and art.

The journal article, describing a series of paintings Homer completed during his 1875 summer vacation, notes a "very picturesque figure of a young fisher-boy, who left his nets for a good consideration to devote his time to the business of posing for Mr. Homer."

"In one of the pictures in which this boy appears," the article reads, "he is sitting upon the edge of a broad, round-keeled boat that has been drawn upon a pebbly beach, beyond which the blue seawater is dancing in a small cove."

The painting was first bought between 1875 and the turn of the century by Benjamin M. Day, who "probably acquired (it) directly from the artist," according to Sotheby's notes. After it was bequeathed to Day's widow upon his death, it was then left to Benjamin M. Day Jr., the couple's only son, upon her death in 1931.

The Day family, according to Da Rold, lived in North Plainfield for several decades in the late 19th century and early 20th century, when the library billed itself as a "Library, Art Gallery, and Museum." Benjamin Day Sr. even loaned out the three Homer works to be displayed during a library exhibit, Da Rold said, before his son donated them permanently the same year he inherited them.

Painstaking research was undertaken to confirm the painting's provenance, according to library director Joe Da Rold, who said the timeline of the work's ownership is indisputable.

"I will say Ann and I really have done a lot of homework," Da Rold said. "We even hired an attorney to search the wills from the Day family to make sure there were no errors, that all the records were correct."

It was during a February Chicago Art Museum exposition at which "Looking Over the Cliff," the library's Homer watercolor, was on display that officials were first made aware of a spike in value of their oil painting (the third Homer original in the collection is a lithograph).

"We'll put it this way: we always knew it was worth a lot, but it had not been officially reappraised in over 10 years," Da Rold said of the revelation that the work ranked toward the top end of some of the most valuable American paintings in existence. "The new appraisal really jumped out at us, being very extreme, and then it was suddenly costing us more to insure it."

Nearly $20,000 more, Da Rold added, as one of the library's greatest assets turned into one of its bigger headaches.

"Unlike the watercolor, which has been exhibited in major museums throughout America and included in important art books, the oil painting has been hidden away in storage," Robinson said. " As a neglected masterpiece, never seen or known in art circles, its value had suddenly become a liability."

It was for those reasons that the work, which had sat locked away in a bank vault for years — the risk of displaying it in the library was too great — was put up for auction. Research into the painting's provenance also revealed that Day's 1931 donation came free of restrictions against the library's use of it.

Library officials are hopeful that, being as an extremely limited number of Homer oil paintings have sold at recent auctions, the sale price of the painting can even exceed the upper $3 million end of the appraisal price. But no matter the end result, all funds from the auction — which will also include the sale of a library-owned bust of George Washington completed by 19th century sculptor Hiram Powers, appraised at from $150,000 to $250,000 — will be placed in a special "Library Heritage Fund," with strict limitations on its use.

Da Rold said the library plans to limit the fund usage to 5 percent or less annually, meaning the building will likely still be benefiting from the auction in 2028. Projects some of the fund are planned to be directed toward, Da Rold said, include completing renovations to the library's children's room, resurfacing staircases, exploring the possibility that the building can be partially operated by solar energy and even possibly building a two-story "technology tower" that would replace the 40-by-40 foot lower-level pool that occupies the atrium in the center of the building.

An agreement with Sotheby's will also result in the elimination of insurance costs for the library's Homer watercolor, Da Rold added. The auction house has also arranged the storing and insurance of "Looking Over the Cliff," and will present the library with a hand-painted reproduction of "Winding Line" to be displayed in the original frame.

The decision to sell, Da Rold concluded, though difficult, was the right move.

"The way I like to describe it is that we're really turning one asset into another," he said. "We had an asset in our cultural collection, and it's going to be a physical asset in improvements to the building."

Mark Spivey: 908-707-3144;

Online story here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Abbott Schools - Ledger - MacInnes: Court's Delusion

Published in the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Supreme Court's Abbott delusion


The New Jersey Supreme Court dealt a crushing blow to Gov. Jon Corzine and the Legislature with its decision to re tain its own formula for funding poor school districts, at least for this year. The court's decision effectively kills the plan to improve educational opportunities for poor children who happen not to live in the 31 Abbott districts recognized by the court.

That the court invited the Abbott districts to seek more funding on top of the new school aid for mula -- despite a looming $5 billion deficit -- only accelerates New Jersey's collision with bankruptcy.

Perhaps most disturbing is the court's lack of any doubt about the so-called "remedies" that it ordered 10 years ago in an effort to close the achievement gap between poor and affluent children. It proceeds as if the 1998 court decision had finally solved a problem that has nagged the nation for four decades. The justices appear to think that if only the Abbott districts continue implementating [sic] these remedies and the administration and Legislature provide more funding, the goal of a "constitutional" education will be achieved.

One would hope that, after 35 years of litigation and the expenditure of billions of additional dollars, the court would show more curiosity about why poor kids in the Abbott districts do not perform better and why the gap persists. All branches of New Jersey's government should face some inescapable realities.

Abbott is supposed to be about inequities that constrict the educational opportunities of poor children residing in poor districts. Un happily, 50 percent of New Jersey's poor children reside outside the Abbott districts. Moreover, Abbott districts like Hoboken, Burlington City, Phillipsburg, Neptune Township, Pemberton and Garfield are much less disadvantaged than many non-Abbott districts.

The court expects New Jersey's poorest districts to accomplish something that has not been achieved anyplace, despite 40 years of programs, remedies, reforms and other panaceas. No district or state has succeeded in closing the educational gap between poor, predominantly minority students and affluent, predominantly white stu dents.

The primary reason these efforts have not succeeded is the failure of courts, advocates, bureaucrats and governors to define accurately and concretely the problem to be solved.

Children from poor families ar rive at kindergarten with too little general knowledge and vocabulary and too few ideas to start reading and writing in first grade. This is the gap that most districts never close. The court, to its credit, recognized this problem and ordered high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Abbott districts. "High quality" is what matters, and it takes time, focus, talent and persistence to bring it about in every preschool classroom. Despite the new formula tripling the number of districts that must provide preschool, the Corzine administration has reduced the staff that provides this crucial training.

The court-ordered remedies of 1998 reflected the latest in educational fashion. In particular, the justices ordered that every elementary school adopt a model of "whole school reform" based on the testimony and research of the designer and chief salesman of one such model. The problem was that none of the models was aligned to New Jersey's then-new curricular requirements, so that, even if those were perfectly implemented, Abbott students would continue to fail (and did).

Worse, the court cut out the district central office at just the time its leadership was essential to give coherence to the implementation of hundreds of new curricular standards. So everyone was focused on the wrong thing.

Abbott funding has helped districts like Elizabeth, Union City, Orange and Perth Amboy achieve dramatic improvements in student performance, while others have spent more money to no effect. The districts that have concentrated on early literacy and student achievement tend to spend less money than those that have faithfully implemented the court's "remedies."

Camden increased per student spending from $8,300 to $15,400 without any improvement in performance. Distinctions should be made between districts that are focused on improved achievement and those that are not. Instead, all districts have been encouraged by the court to seek more funding.

Courts can determine if funding for schools with concentrations of poor children is equitable, and they should. What courts cannot do is to require classroom instruction. The Abbott decisions overlook entirely that poor Latinos are the fastest- growing population in the Abbott and many other districts. How can jurists decide among several pedagogical approaches to educating students who speak no English and whose parents read no Spanish?

This is a pretty tough nut to crack, but the court felt no compunction about ordering solutions to all sorts of other pedagogical puzzles (to no consistently efficacious result). The court's latest decision was a chance to back out gracefully from such bravado by agreeing that, with all their shortcomings, local districts are better positioned to deal with the stu dents in their charge and should be given the responsibility to do so.

The overriding reality is that New Jersey and the nation are tapped out. No one is sure how deep or long this Great Recession will be. Other states have acted quickly to reduce spending. New Jersey's time will come, presumably. When it does, additional costs of hundreds of millions of dollars from a few school districts will not be welcome.

Gordon MacInnes was the assistant commissioner for Abbott districts at the state Education Department from 2002 to 2007. He is a lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School and a fellow at the Century Foundation, which will publish his book on Abbott next month.

Online story here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

About Me

Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.