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Williamsport library board sends art ownership dispute to town council

April 20, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - The town's library board stayed out of the fray over an art print Tuesday, voting unanimously to let the town council decide who owns it.

John W. Slayman, the town's former mayor, has asked the library to hand over the print, which hangs on a back wall. He has threatened to sue if he doesn't get it.

Of the three prints of the same Civil War scene, two have hung publicly ? at the library and at Town Hall ? for many years. Slayman has kept the third at his home.

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But when Slayman left office last month, he took the one from Town Hall and asked for the one at the library.

The Williamsport Memorial Library Board of Trustees forwarded Slayman's request on Tuesday to the town council. The library board's resolution calls for the town government to "look into the proper disposition" of the prints.

If town officials agree to keep the prints, the library gladly would keep the one it has, according to the Rev. Greg Martin, the board member who proposed the resolution.

After artist John Paul Strain painted "Williamsport Crossing," three prints ? actually, "artist proofs," which are scarcer and more valuable ? ended up in town.

Slayman said Lester Benjamin Green, the co-owner of Benjamin Art Gallery in Hagerstown, promised Slayman the prints after Slayman agreed to issue a press release publicizing the art.

But Strain, interviewed by phone last week at his Fort Worth, Texas, home, said he was the one who donated the prints. Two were for the town to hang in public places and one was for Slayman, Strain said.

Lester Benjamin Green died in July 1993. Although Slayman said Lottie Green agreed to honor her husband's promise of three prints for Slayman, Lottie Green has disputed that. She said only one was meant for the mayor.

Strain's painting depicts Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee leading Civil War troops toward Gettysburg, Pa.

Art gallery Web sites are advertising limited edition prints of "Williamsport Crossing" for about $900 to $1,000 apiece.

By Strain's estimate, prints actually are worth about $1,500, while artist proofs ? including the three in Williamsport ? might be worth about $2,500 apiece.

On Tuesday, two Williamsport officials from 1993 ? James Black, who was assistant mayor, and Vance Ishler, who was town superintendent ? said during phone interviews that they remember one print given to Slayman and one given to the town.

Two other officials of that time ? Donna K. Spickler, who was clerk/treasurer, and G. Eugene Nichols, who was a councilman ? said Tuesday that they don't remember the specifics.

On the frame of each print is a plaque that says, "Presented to The Town of Williamsport, MD by John p. Strain."

During the library board's 15-minute discussion Tuesday, board members largely relied on a Herald-Mail story published Sunday for information about the controversy.

Told what's written on the plaque, board member Jane Hershey said, "Well, that seems like that would be the answer."

But board President C. Richard Grimm and others said they need more information to decide.

Ultimately, Martin suggested that the town government determine ownership and whether one print should stay at the library.

Slayman did not attend the meeting.

Mayor James G. McCleaf II, who defeated Slayman in last month's election, and Clerk/Treasurer Bonnie J. Errico went to the meeting.

Grimm announced that both are members of the library board. However, neither voted on the art print resolution.

McCleaf said afterwards that he wasn't expecting the library board to solve the problem Tuesday. The matter probably will come before the town council at its May 2 work session, then again at the May 9 regular council meeting, McCleaf said.

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