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Louise Jordan Smith’s Unambiguous Bequest for Randolph College Art Purchases

Maier Museum, Randolph College

My moles tell me that the Washington Post is working on a story about the possible Randolph College art sales and the irony of their being contemplated during its Maier Museum’s 100th anniversary year.

The Post writer will surely want to peruse the unambiguous terms of the bequest of Louise Jordan Smith regarding the exclusive use of her funds for the purchase of art for the college. The college has just asked the Circuit Court of the City of Lynchburg, VA, to consider allowing it to “share” or sell some of the art bought with Smith funds, in order to beef up its endowment.

We all know (don’t we?) what the guidelines of the Association of Art Museum Directors say regarding deaccessions by university and college museums:

Deaccessioning and disposal from the collection must result from clear museum policies that are in keeping with AAMD’s Professional Practices. Deaccessioning and disposal from the art museum’s collection must never be for the purpose of providing financial support or benefit for the goals of the university or college or its foundation.

Randolph estimates the total value of the “more than 35 works” bought with Smith’s money at “more than $40 million,” but we all suspect, from the Fisk O’Keeffe experience, that the actual value of the collection, which includes a number of blue-chip American paintings that have been ogled by Alice Walton, is much higher.

Here’s what Smith stipulated in her will:

I devise and bequeath [funds from her trust] to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College of Lynchburg, Virginia, to be used from time to time for the Art Department of said College to form a permanent collection of art.

No other use of her funds is discussed.

The college’s attorneys are now trying to argue that “Ms. Smith’s general or primary purpose was to benefit the College,” although there is no evidence of this in her very specific art-targeted instructions.

Speaking of overturning the terms of a trust, I feel a sudden urge coming on to update the Barnes story.

an ArtsJournal blog