Ex-teacher wants Wilson’s art out of storage

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 thewilson­art@gmail.com ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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