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More Higgins Armory info
Bar Harbor
A reliable source sends me the following for redistribution:
A good friend of mine happens to be a member of the Board of Directors
of the John Woodman Higgins Armory Museum, and this is some of what I
learned from him at breakfast this morning.

The Higgins will remain open throughout the rest of the year (presumably
calendar 2013), so there's still time to see what they have on display.
(And my 6'5" tall friend will get one more opportunity to portray King
Arthur and Gandalf on the appropriate special days....)

The "core collection" of the Higgins Armory Museum, consisting of only
about 250 pieces, will be transferred to the Worcester Art Museum, which
will devote a permanent gallery and a limited amount of other display
space to it. The remainder of the Higgins's pieces-- most of which are
not currently on display because they don't have the room, and
comprising over 1,000 items -- will be *auctioned off* in New York City
by a commercial firm. I do know that Sotheby's was among the firms
trying to get the business, but I do not know who will conduct the
actual auction. (Who knows? This may be an opportunity for someone in
the SCA or your tribe of friends to acquire something real ... though I
doubt the stuff will go cheap.)

The roots of the Higgins's problem go back a ways. The museum's
marvelous old steel building, although historic and architecturally
significant, was a real albatross. They looked into replacing all the
windows (and you know there are tons of them, as the facade is primarily
glass!), and were told by numerous contractors and suppliers that it
could not really be done -- no one could quite figure out how to
accomplishit. Heating and cooling the building were tasks that seemed to
involve the rest of the surrounding natural world as well, and it was a
continuing, very very expensive proposition. The museum's furnace died a
year or two ago, and while they had a backup furnace, the cost of
installing a new primary unit was prohibitive and added more fuel to the
fire, so to speak.

The 2008 recession caused them to lose a lot of money from their
endowment ... apparently it was invested at much greater risk than
prudence or common sense might have dictated. The Board recently hired a
new director who has specialized in turn-arounds, but he was unable to
find a good way out that could keep the institution going. The previous
director also apparently had a habit of misrepresenting to the Board the
true state of the Museum's finances as well as understating its
expenses, and she evidently dug the hole even deeper. The proposed
course of action -- closing, transfer, and auction -- as well as other
possibliities, has been under discussion for over a year by the Board.

Well, that's what I know. It's a sad state of affairs for a marvelous
institution and collection.

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"The previous director also apparently had a habit of misrepresenting to the Board the true state of the Museum's finances as well as understating its
expenses, and she evidently dug the hole even deeper."

She's the one I dealt with, and let's just say that everyone has been treading carefully around the subject of what else she might have done.

Some of that doesnt' seem to fit with what appeared in the Boston Globe article:

"Stephen Fliegel, the longtime curator of medieval art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, noticed last week in a catalog that more than 500 objects from the Higgins collection are being auctioned off March 20 by dealer Thomas Del Mar through Sotheby’s in London. But Fliegel said local museum-goers should not worry. The material, he said, might be of interest to private collectors but is not good enough to rate being shown in most institutions.

Maas said the sale, known in the museum world as deaccessioning, is unrelated to the closing of the Higgins.

In fact, she said, the museum voted to sell the pieces last July. The vote to give the museum’s collection to the Worcester Art Museum took place in November.

The objects being sold have never been on display and are not of museum quality, Maas stressed."

Notice who is "stressing" (the interim director), an appropriate verb. Lack of transparency are us.

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