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Some say art prints belong to the public

April 21, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Three Williamsport Town Council members interviewed Wednesday said two disputed art prints appear to be, and therefore should remain, town property.

The council members agreed that John W. Slayman - the former mayor, who has said the prints are his - probably should return one that he has and give up his claim to another.

Those two prints are part of a set of three donated in 1993 to celebrate the original painting, called "Williamsport Crossing," and the release of a limited edition print series.

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The artist, John Paul Strain of Fort Worth, Texas, said this month that he gave two to the town, to be hung in public places, and one to Slayman, who was mayor at the time.

One print was hung in Williamsport Town Hall and one in Williamsport Memorial Library.

Slayman has insisted that all three prints are his, courtesy of Lester Benjamin Green, the co-owner of Benjamin Art Gallery in Hagerstown at the time. Slayman said Green offered him a gift in exchange for Slayman issuing a press release about the painting and the print series.

Green died in 1993.

Slayman has kept one of the three prints the whole time. When he left office last month after losing the election, he had a town employee bring the Town Hall print to his house, giving him two prints.

Slayman is trying to get the print that is at the library. He has threatened to sue if he's denied the print.

The library board voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the town council research and decide who owns that print.

Mayor James G. McCleaf II said after the library board meeting that the issue probably will be discussed at the town council's May 2 work session and again at the May 9 regular meeting.

McCleaf has called for Slayman to return the Town Hall print as a goodwill gesture to resolve the dispute.

On Wednesday, Assistant Mayor Monty R. Jones, Councilman Jeff Cline and Councilman Nelson F. Deal largely agreed with McCleaf.

McCleaf, Jones, Cline and Deal ran as a slate against Slayman and three other candidates in the March election.

Two calls apiece to council members Gloria J. Bitner, James F. Kalbfleisch and Earle R. Pereschuk Sr. for comment on Wednesday afternoon and evening were not returned.

Jones said the library print should stay where it is.

About the Town Hall print, Jones said, "I hope that John will do the right thing and bring it back and put it back."

Cline said the council should hear Slayman's side about the Town Hall and library prints. However, evidence appears to show that at least two prints are the town's, he said.

If that's true, having Slayman return the Town Hall print "would be an appropriate action," Cline said. He stressed that he's keeping an open mind.

Deal said it's not clear if any of the three prints belong to Slayman, so he proposed a different solution. He said Slayman should return both of the prints he has. Then, the town should give Slayman one as a gift and honor him during a ceremony.

"I think he should have one ...," Deal said. "Apparently, that picture means a lot to him."

Slayman has said he asked Green for the three prints in 1993 to give to his one son and two daughters.

In 1994, his son, Warren, was shot and killed.

"Williamsport Crossing" depicts Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet crossing the Potomac River on horseback on their way to Gettysburg, leading about 65,000 soldiers.

Plaques on the frames of the prints say, "Presented to The Town of Williamsport, MD by John p. Strain."

This month, Strain estimated the value of the three prints - which are actually rarer "artist proofs" - at about $2,500 apiece.

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