Retired science teacher Marilyn Krupnik has a good idea what she wants done with scores of paintings that were removed from the Wilson Middle School in 2003 and 2004 and put into storage.
She wants the artwork, which had been on display at the Cottman Avenue school since the 1930s, to be available for public viewing in a safe, climate-controlled environment, “not in a warehouse.”
Before the art was moved from the school, “it was like a museum every time you went in,” said Krupnick, whose last position before retiring was heading the middle school’s gifted program.
Charles Dudley, who was Wilson’s principal from 1928 to 1950, began collecting and displaying paintings by Pennsylvania artists, many from Bucks County, in the early 1930s, Krupnick said. He would hold shows of the school’s collection, charging a nickel for admission. Dudley would then use those funds to buy more art for the school.
What happens to that artwork is up to the School Reform Commission, which in midmonth decided not to sell the district’s collection of art and antiques. Many pieces of the district’s entire 1,100-piece collection had been removed from Wilson and other city schools during the administration of CEO Paul Vallas in 2003 and 2004 and put into storage at a secret location.
Krupnick said she believes several of Wilson’s paintings are unaccounted for, which is what City Controller Alan Butkovitz said he believes, too. His office has audited the stored art and all of what is supposed to be warehoused isn’t, he said Oct. 24.
Vallas had more than 200 pieces of art, including Wilson’s entire collection, removed from city schools and placed in storage.
According to a Jan. 5, 2004, letter from Vallas to school administrators, “The School Reform Commission has directed that the district survey its art and take immediate steps to remove, restore/refurbish and, to the extent possible, return all pieces to the schools.” Vallas stated that the criteria used for a piece’s removal included “not presently damaged but in imminent danger of damage, loss or theft.”
In an Oct. 24 interview, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said Vallas had done the same thing in Chicago’s schools when he was superintendent there before coming to Philly.
Krupnick said she never bought that explanation. She said there was nothing wrong with any of Wilson’s paintings; they never had been damaged; and were in no danger of being vandalized. “We had a large student population, which included a lot of wild kids, a lot of fights. Not once in the 13 years I was there, did I ever see a kid near a piece of art,” she said.
Krupnick said she witnessed the paintings’ being unceremoniously clipped off their wire hangers and bundled away by men who came to the school in an unmarked white van during the 2004 summer break.
True, Gallard said, but maybe not so mysterious. The idea was to make the paintings secure, he said. “They didn’t want to give anyone the heads-up they were going to do it,” Gallard said.
It might be anyone’s guess what the district’s full collection is worth. According to Harvey Rice, Butkovitz’s deputy, the value has dropped from $30 million in 2004 and 2005 to $8 million to $1.5 million to under $1 million. Gallard said that the initial $30 million estimate was inflated, but Butkovitz sees no reason for the decline in value.
Krupnick said eight paintings from Wilson are not to be found in storage. For example, she said, “Backyard Philadelphia” by Philadelphia artist Dox Thrash is missing. Butkovitz agrees that some of the collection is AWOL, and, on that count, wonders why there isn’t an outcry from the public. “Where’s the outrage?” he asked.
Gallard said last week that, as far as he knows, nothing is missing. It’s a matter of whose list you look at, he said. There were other lists and other complaints about missing artwork dating to the 1960s or 1970s. Krupnick wants others to let her know of their support and any information they might have on Wilson’s collection. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org ••