By Sue Lindsey
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
ROANOKE, Oct. 23 -- A group of students, alumnae, art donors and former employees filed motions in Lynchburg Circuit Court on Tuesday seeking to keep financially ailing Randolph College from selling four paintings from its museum collection next month.
The paintings are scheduled to be sold through Christie's auction house. College officials estimate they will receive at least $32 million, which will go into the college's endowment.
"This motion for injunction seeks to stop the college from irreparably harming their reputation and their world-class American art collection" before the courts decide on several pending lawsuits, Anne Yastremski, executive director of an alumnae group, said in a statement.
The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals on two lawsuits challenging the decision last year by the former women's school to become coeducational. The Lynchburg school changed its name from Randolph-Macon Woman's College, and admitted men for the first time this fall.
Yastremski, of Preserve Educational Choice, said hearings in those cases are expected in February or March, with a ruling likely in the spring.
"Judging by how hastily and secretively Randolph College officials took away the art, it is clear that the college fears a ruling from the Supreme Court against their actions and is moving to sell the pieces of art as quickly as possible," Yastremski said in the statement.
Professional art handlers removed the four paintings from the college's Maier Museum on Oct. 1, the same day the trustees voted to sell them.
"We believe the suit has no merit, and we will vigorously defend our position in court," college spokeswoman Brenda Edson said in a statement.
Randolph College also had asked the circuit court to determine whether the school legally can sell or share 36 pieces of art bought from a trust bequeathed by former professor Louise Jordan Smith. Some of those who joined Tuesday's filing also are seeking to intervene in that case to prevent the school from selling any of its artwork.
None of the four pieces scheduled for sale was bought with money from the Smith trust, and college officials have said there is no restriction on their sale.
However, those seeking to stop the sale of George Bellows's "Men of the Docks," Edward Hicks's "A Peaceable Kingdom," Ernest Hennings's "Through the Arroyo" and Rufino Tamayo's "Troubador" believe the college has at least a moral obligation to keep the art collection intact.
"Artwork should be used for the purpose for which it was given, which is to educate women in the liberal arts, not to support Randolph College's endowment," Yastremski said.
The decision to sell the paintings brought an outcry from the art world. Among the organizations raising protests were the Virginia Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors and the College Art Association.