As the embattled Boy Scouts of America prepare to face an estimated 1,700 lawsuits over allegations of sexual abuse, creditors are taking stock of the organization’s assets. Buried in a bankruptcy filing last week was a listing of its collection of original Normal Rockwell paintings—potentially worth millions of dollars—as an asset that could be liquidated to help pay victims.
For more than 50 years, Rockwell—whose work was ubiquitous in mid-century Americana—created original illustrations for the covers of Boys’ Life, the organization’s magazine, in the process helping define the group’s wholesome visual brand, which also became a trademark of much of Rockwell’s art. In the collection are 65 original works by Rockwell, 51 of them illustrations for the magazine’s annual calendar. In 2018, the Norman Rockwell Museum featured works from the collection in “Norman Rockwell and the Boy Scouts of America,” an exhibition highlighting the artist’s 64-year relationship with the Boy Scouts, and the Medici Museum of Art in Warren, Ohio, will open a show, “Norman Rockwell: American Scouting Collection,” featuring all 65 works, on March 22.
Such valuable assets may figure in what is gearing up to be a contentious and expensive legal battle between plaintiffs and nonprofit; complainants have been allotted an 80-day deadline to submit their claims in federal court. Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing victims in the case, told USA Today that the likelihood of creditors seeking to liquidate the collection “will depend upon how candid the Boy Scouts of America are,” adding, “if they’re looking to come clean . . . then they will have no problem, I’m pretty confident, preserving things like that.”
Rockwell’s auction record was set by the 1951 oil-on-canvas Saying Grace sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2013, where it went for $46.1 million. Less important works by Rockwell regularly sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Were the Boy Scouts’ Rockwell works to head to auction, it would not be the only controversial sale involving the artists’ work in recent memory. Amid a contentious plan to deaccession works, the Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts revealed plans to sell a Rockwell painting at Sotheby’s in New York, where it was given an estimate of $20 million–$30 million. It ended up selling privately to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, reportedly for around $25 million.