Stuart Chase’s Berkshire Museum Resignation

Clarification and Further Questions

By: - Feb 18, 2011


Based on information provided by a reliable source, and a lack of response from the director and the museum, we speculated that a conflict with the Board of Directors regarding use of the Florence Keep & Josephine Crane Fund may have led to the “abrupt” resignation of Stuart Chase the popular and dynamic director of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.

During his six year tenure, which will end in March, Chase completely revived, renovated and redefined the eccentric museum and its eclectic collections. On his watch Chase raised $10.3 million and managed a complex deaccession of three Russian paintings that brought $7 million at auction.

In an extended dialogue with Jeremy Goodwin, the communications director for the museum, he assured me that there was no substance to our reporting. He did not, however offer quotes, other than what was included in the museum’s press release, from either Chase or the Board of Trustees.

During the past week, other than dialogue with Berkshire Eagle editors at the time of the initial announcement, Chase has not responded to a number of media requests for interviews.

The reasons for the resignation of Chase appear to be private.

But he did respond by e mail to a question regarding the current status of the Florence Keep & Josephine Crane Fund which was established in 2009.

In our coverage of the Chase resignation we quoted from a report on the sale of the Russian paintings using figures that he provided to us.

“Auctioneer Tobias Meyer, knocked down the three Grigoriev paintings at their low estimate of $7 million.

”With financial markets in chaos the $7 million was put into CDs in a number of Berkshire banks earning 3%. The $7 million was added to a prior acquisition fund of $1.5 million.”

In the press release issued by the museum among his accomplishments it stated “…creation of a $6 million acquisition fund to build the Museum’s uncommonly diverse collection.”

Understandably this has been a period of financial turbulence. But we were concerned that the fund which had assets of $7 million in 2009 is now reported at $6 million. It was also our understanding that the $7 million realized from the sale of the Russian paintings was added to the existing $1.5 million acquisition fund. At the time of that initial reporting that would represents some $8.5 million.

We also speculated that any misuse of the funds might result in sanctions from the Association of American Museums (AAM) and Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD).

There was a request for clarification regarding the status and use of the Florence Keep & Josephine Crane Fund and its decline from $7 million in 2009 to $6 million in 2011. That raised concerns particularly as initially reported the money was invested conservatively in CDs that at the time yielded 3%.

By e mail Chase responded to our questions.

I spoke with our Director of Finance and got current data as of 1/31/11.

The Keep Crane Fund had a balance of $6.579.

The fund was fully funded and established in late 2009.

We adhere to the AAM guidelines "used for acquisitions and direct care of collections." 

I am not a member of the AAMD.

We have indeed purchased artworks and natural science specimens, including the major commission to Tom Patti, by policy we do not publish the price of works acquired.

We have also conducted extensive conservation work on the collection in preparation for major exhibitions and objects requiring immediate care, as well as special mounts and storage systems to properly care for and present collections.  This will be an ongoing project, as we have done in the past.
In this fiscal year we have budgeted $305k from the Keep Crane Fund for the above mentioned projects.  Interest has been witness to the fluctuations of the market, but we are seeing an up tick in recent reports from our managers at Alliance Bernstein.
I'll be out in the hill towns most of the day and cell service is spotty.  I trust this clarifies the Florence Keep & Josephine Crane Fund.  Thanks again for your consideration.