On Friday, February 24, 2017, the City of Plainfield filed a Complaint and Order to Show Cause in Union County Superior Court to authorize the sale of two Albert Bierstadt paintings.
These paintings; "The Landing of Columbus" and "Autumn in the Sierras" were gifted to the City of Plainfield in 1919 by Dr. J. Ackerman Coles. Various auction houses have appraised the paintings at a value of several million dollars.
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.
The City of Plainfield intends to use the proceeds from the sale of these paintings to create a trust which will contribute to funding of The Plainfield Promise which has as its mandate:
- Provide every child in kindergarten (whose parent(s) or guardian(s) reside in Plainfield) a bank account to promote financial literacy and establish savings for College.
- Create a scholarship fund for High School graduates who live in Plainfield, seeking to attend Union County Community College, but who lack the financial means.
- Create vocational and job training initiatives.
"I believe that Plainfield's future success lies in investing in the education of our children," said Mayor Adrian O. Mapp. "Too many of our young people are unable to live up to their true potential simply because they do not have the financial means. The value of changing lives far outweighs the sentimental value of holding on to these paintings any longer.
I feel confident that the dividends returned to Plainfield through this investment in our children will multiply for generations to come. We must no longer be satisfied just to get along but should strive to excel and provide alternatives. Our children are our future, and we must be willing to take bold steps to support them and build a legacy of educational excellence.”