ED NOTE 10-2-17 — THE PLANET shall be back tomorrow with a column on the mass murder in Las Vegas.

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY OCT. 2, 2017) — Sources close to Ground Zero inside the imploding Berkshire Museum (BM) tell THE PLANET that the “deeply conflicted” Board of Trustees is “in a state of civil war,” with “tensions near the boiling point” over the lack of leadership by executive director Van Shields.

One source, Sunny, says “Shields presence is tearing [the museum] apart. He has put [Board president] “Buzz” [McGraw] in a tough spot. She’s trying to stamp out a wildfire with a rag soaked in gas, and he wants her to cover it up.” Several board members have threatened to quit, they say, and an attempt to call an emergency meeting was quashed. “There’s also growing concern and second thoughts about [the art sale]. Shields is pushing this to save his hide.” But what about the so-called “New Vision?” “A smoke screen,” one source said. For what, we asked. They wouldn’t say, offering instead what looked liked a cross between a cryptic smile and an exasperated shrug.

Strong stuff. THE PLANET, of course, would welcome a statement from Shields, McGraw, or any board member. We would also make a guest shot available on our TV show.

When the phone doesn’t ring, I’ll know its Shields and the BM not getting back to us.

Since THE PLANET began its series on the outrageous planned sale of artwork by the BM, two board members have made public their resignations: Treasurer Carol Riordan and trustee Nancy Edman Feldman. Riordan has been cautious in her public statements, and Feldman hasn’t commented publicly. Sunny says, though, that they insisted that Shields call off the sale of two Norman Rockwell paintings and 38 other works by noted artists, threatening to quit if he didn’t. This, sources say, led to a showdown. Shields wouldn’t budge. Riordan and Feldman made good on their threat to quit.

Sunny says only one other board member openly backed the two women, although several wanted to wanted to but “weaseled out.” Asked why, another source said, “fear.” Apparently, a lot of pressure is being put on McGraw to keep the lid on things at least until the Sotheby‘s auction can be completed. THE PLANET salutes Riordan and Feldman for their principled, courageous stand, and we call on other board members to search their consciences and publically call a halt to the rape of a fine institution. It can be done.

The argument will be made that the funds raised by the auction are needed for the very survival of the BM. The obvious counter is that putting more money into the hands of this director and board would only hasten the demise, like enabling a junkie to continue his habit. It would be irrational to expect more money with the same management to yield a result different than more eventual debt. It would also ensure a further erosion of an art-depleted facility resembling more a children’s Funland than an adult repository of fine art and natural science.

With the walls caving in and the muddy water 10 feet over the levee, this doesn’t sound like a situation, and the BM doesn’t sound like a place, that’s deserving of one more penny of help. Investors, donators, and philanthropists be advised.

——– ooo ——–

THE PLANET had wanted to devote our final column to a more personal reflection. The momentum of the story, however, upset that plan, as sources began to open up to us. We will, though, offer this.

Growing up in Pittsfield in the late 1950s and 1960s, we haunted the BM, especially during the school year. We joined the Explorer’s Club, a Saturday morning kids’ group. Museum staffers would give us a set of questions that could only be answered by going off, unescorted, throughout the hallowed halls. We were like detectives, taking the questions and clues to track down the answer. Each correct answer moved our colored pin closer to the summit of a large, bulletin-board mountain. One of the great days of childhood came when we finally reached the top and got our gold star, complete with certificate.

There were countless alcoves, nooks, and attractions in the museum that would echo our footsteps and keep us enthralled for hours: the phosphorescent gem booth, Old Bill, the stuffed wildlife, the dioramas, the bas relief map of Berkshire County with its push-button control board, the oscilloscope where we would recite words and see the audio waves translated on a video display as a jagged, green line. We loved the sculptures and paintings, couldn’t take our eyes off the mummy, and had the  thrill of sitting at Herman Melville‘s desk where he write Moby Dick.

Our favorite memory came on our first solo trip to the museum, at all of about nine years old. We wandered through the upper galleries when Rockwell’s iconic painting, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” came into view. We marveled that such realism could be painted. Art plebians and critical snobs might discount photo-realism in painting, but only through ignorance or pride. Fact is, every great artist — Picasso, Dali, Cezanne, Rembrandt, you name them– mastered realism before moving on to more experimental and connotative work. “Shuffleton’s,” actually, contains a warmth and emotional tone that mere photo-realism could not achieve. It is a brilliant work. Only a dunce would fail to see that.

We remember drinking in this painting, and it was the first (and one of the rare) times a piece of art literally shocked us. In the lower right corner of the painting, Rockwell painted a crack in the barbershop window. In our innocence, we thought the glass in the actual picture frame had a crack. We couldn’t resist, running our left forefinger over the perfect imperfection, expecting an edgy resistance just shy of a cut.

Woah! The crack wasn’t real; it had been painted there!!

The painted crack indicated genius. The real-life crack in the museum’s directorship, unfortunately, belies the presence of incompetence, malfeasance, and criminality. What else can you call the private betrayal of a public trust? What else do you call the immense short-sightedness and stupidity of exchanging bequeathed art meant for the ages for 30 pieces of silver?

That, presumably, is why they have hanging trees.


“We are stardust. We are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”Joni Mitchell, lyrics from “Woodstock.”



The Usual Disclaimer.



  1. dusty
    October 2, 2017 at 1:03 am #

    So is there any written grand plan for all the loot that will be gotten from the sale of these paintings? Surely there exists more than just thoughts in someones head? And so what is the business plan as to how this money will be invested or spent? (or smuggled to the Cayman Islands) Just kidding.
    Or am I?

    And if so, are these plans public and if not why not? Exactly what guaranteed oversight will there be? For starters perhaps there should be a 15 year freeze put on all museum salaries, bonuses and other in kind compensation.

    • acheshirecat
      October 2, 2017 at 5:00 am #

      There is no grand plan, just a “new vision”.

  2. Madame Du Barry
    October 2, 2017 at 5:09 am #

    Vegas Terrorist firedcfrom the 32nd Floor of Hotel. O J number for Bills was…..32

  3. War Pigs
    October 2, 2017 at 5:15 am #

    I’ll take the realism of Rockwell over some of the crap at MOCA any day, where some artist thinks their giant painting of a triangle is worth a quarter of a mil.

    • Dilly Dally
      October 2, 2017 at 5:22 am #

      You can get millions for a Warhol Soup Can.

  4. Len X Abhorant
    October 2, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    Many of Planet posts stating,watch American Terrorists as well as Isis or anyone else. Why is this a surprise? Any venue with thousands of participants will have to be watched after this one. Frankly, how do you prevent it? Pray for the victims, we have to somehow come together, but it won’t be with this President, to many statements against basic human dignity. I’ve noticed in our area the simplistic respect on the roads, it’s tough to navigate out on the roads lately, accidents have to be way up.

    • dusty
      October 2, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

      Not to worry. Donnie and Melanie are going out there Wednesday and will fix everything. Donald will probably start by bringing the dead back to life and then sing the Star Spangled Banner in a deep bass voice while draped in an American flag.

  5. Jonathan Melle
    October 2, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    If Jimmy Ruberto is for it, then it must be a shake down!

    • h
      October 2, 2017 at 11:12 am #

      Again, who knew you could sell donated Art.

      • Jonathan Melle
        October 2, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

        Maybe they will give Jimmy Ruberto a cut of the loot?

    • Roberto Del Halitoso
      October 2, 2017 at 7:25 pm #

      You said a mouthful there JM.

  6. dusty
    October 2, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    Almost hit and cut in half by two (2) trucks both running the red light at once Meadowview and Dalton Ave. I do occasionally see a police car watching there but they could catch 100 violators per hour if they so chose. Heart still pounding…..

    • mi
      October 2, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

      D, it’s been out of control for twenty years. Some asshole ran me off the road a couple months ago.

  7. CosbiesLadies
    October 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

    Tom Petty died. Legend.

  8. timothy cahill
    October 2, 2017 at 4:41 pm #

    Thanks for your reporting. In Sunday’s Eagle, I presented an “alternative plan” for the museum that will save the art and the county’s cultural heritage, both of which are threatened by the “New Vision”:,520732

    I believe the desk was Hawthorne’s, where he wrote “Tanglewood Tales.” Not sure even Arrowhead has Melville’s desk.

    • danvalenti
      October 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

      Thanks for sharing this, TC.

  9. H
    October 2, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    Why is everyone saying the Las Vegas terrorist was clean as a whistle. Compare him to O J …he just plain snapped. Does there have to be a reason? Of course.This guy was undiagnosed, mentally ill,no medical records or history of violence. Do you think Trump is normal or some of your own neighbors? There are usually signs, but not in this case,so far. How do we know he didn’t mail something that will tell his story? Very,very sorry, for te victims, like all of America, but this is no surprise.

  10. CosbiesLadies
    October 2, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    Somtimes you can’t prevent Insanity, sometimes they are not responsible for themselves. That’s why they’re insane.

  11. C. Trzcinka
    October 2, 2017 at 6:42 pm #

    The article in today’s “Boring Broadsheet” about the expert who looked over the financial statements and concluded that the Museum could survive on an endowment of $12 million. This means that they would not need to sell the art that has enchanted patrons for years. The deficit appears to be $1.15 million per year but this includes $500,000 depreciation. Nobody is paid a depreciation dollar. Every financial analyst adds depreciation back into earnings for valuation purposes.It simply is an accountant’s attempt to capture the use of assets. We know what the use of assets are and the museum can raise money for repairs. So the deficit is really about $600K which is about what a $12 million endowment spins off each year. Fund raising $4-$5 million to add to a $8.5 million endowment is very feasible and at least should be tried before the big sale. The Planet is right to be so hypercritical. The director and the board just want a big number to “make a difference” and want a complete break with history.

    • danvalenti
      October 2, 2017 at 6:56 pm #

      Thanks for your wisdom, Dr. T

  12. Susan Lyman
    October 2, 2017 at 7:16 pm #

    Thank you for a well-written and poignant piece. I, too, have fond memories of the paintings as a 9 year old child. Be well.

    • danvalenti
      October 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm #

      MAny thanks, and most appreciated.

  13. PVTV Link
    October 2, 2017 at 7:21 pm #

    Click below to watch the latest show.

  14. Lessydogunawl
    October 3, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

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  15. Kimberly01201
    October 5, 2017 at 5:59 pm #

    The New Yorker weighs in on the BM disaster.