Arts & Entertainment

Sale of Bierstadt Paintings, Plainfield Promise FAQ'S

Albert Bierstadt, "Autumn in the Sierras" Credits: City of Plainfield
Albert Bierstadt, "The Landing of Columbus" Credits: City of Plainfield

PLAINFIELD, NJ - The City of Plainfield issued a press release about the potential sale of two Albert Bierstadt paintings earlier this week.  The paintings, "The Landing of Columbus" and "Autumn in the Sierras," were gifted to the City in 1919 by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles. 

Almost immediately after the release was made public, residents questioned why, and tempers flared on social media. 

In response, Mayor Adrian Mapp's weekly e-newsletter includes some FAQs on the subject.  Answers address how Plainfield Promise will be funded, and note that Plainfield residents' taxes will not be affected.

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  • Funding of trusts, college savings accounts and vocational training initiatives would be in place for twenty years
  • JFK Health System will be a partner in the Plainfield Promise; other partners will be announce
  • Plainfield Promise will have no impact on Plainfield residents' taxes
  • If the Superior Court grants permission to sell the Bierstadt paintings, members of the community will be able to voice their opinions at a public forum or will be able to submit feedback via the City's website

RELATED:  The City of Plainfield Files Order with Union County Superior Court to Authorize Sale of Paintings

Following are the Q&As featured in the e-blast:
Q. What is Plainfield Promise?
A. The Plainfield Promise represents Mayor Mapp's multi-faceted plan of action to help prepare our children and young adults for tomorrow. The plan of action eliminates finances as a reason for not pursuing higher education; provides job skills and vocational training opportunities; and stimulates financial literacy of our youngsters and their families, including as an incentive a savings account for each and every Plainfield child entering kindergarten and remaining a resident of Plainfield through his/her graduation from high school;
Q. How will Plainfield Promise be funded?
A. Plainfield Promise will be financed from various sources, which include proceeds from the sale of City owned artwork and donations from City partners, educational institutions, and philanthropic organizations.
Q. What artwork will be sold and why is the City selling them?
A. There are two Bierstadt paintings which were donated to the City in 1919 by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles of Scotch Plains in memory of his father, Abraham Coles. "The Landing of Columbus in San Salvador" and the "Autumn in the Sierras." The City's continued ownership of the paintings has become impractical as social conditions and perceptions have impaired the usefulness and benefit of the gift to the citizens of Plainfield. The painting entitled "The Landing of Columbus" is controversial and offensive in nature as it portrays Columbus disembarking from his boat with a group of his companions, as Native Americans kneel and appear to be bowing and worshipping Columbus.

In 2001, a New York Times art critic documented the City's struggle with the racist implications of the painting.
It is felt that the value of educating children far outweighs the continued ownership of the paintings.
Q. How long will the Plainfield Promise be around?
A. The intent is to fund Trust Accounts for the College Savings Accounts, College Scholarships and Vocational and Job Training initiatives which will exist for at least 20 years each. The creation of an endowment fund is also under consideration for the College Scholarships.
The income earned from the remaining balance would be made available annually in support of civic, social and cultural initiatives in the City, but the principal will remain in perpetuity. Any administrative and management costs associated with all the initiatives will be covered by the Trusts.
Q. Who are some of the partners supporting Plainfield Promise?
A. JFK Health System will soon be announcing its support of the Plainfield Promise by providing scholarships to the Snyder Schools of Nursing and Allied Health. We are currently engaging with other parties but are still negotiating the level of their financial commitment.
Several announcements in support of the Plainfield Promise are anticipated in the near future.
Q. Will there be replacements for the art that is sold?
A. If the sale of the artwork is approved, all the accounts will be named after the Coles Family from Scotch Plains, and full-sized copies of the paintings made and hung in their respective places in the Courtroom, or at the Plainfield Public Library
Q. How will the Trusts be managed?
A. A Dedication by Rider Trust account will be initially created in order to receive funds. The Trusts will be administered by outside entities. A third party financial agency in conjunction with the bank. At no time will the City have any access to these funds for any purpose other than that for which the Trusts were established.
Q. How will Plainfield Promise impact our taxes?
A. Plainfield Promise will have no impact whatsoever on Plainfield residents taxes. As mentioned above all the funding will come from sale of artwork and contributions  from partners and philanthropic organizations.
Q. Will the community be given an opportunity to voice its concern or support for the proposed sale?
A. Yes! If the Superior Court grants permission to sell the two paintings, the community will be given an opportunity to provide input during a public forum or via the City's website.

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