Judge rules ceramic tile mural is Butler’s
HOWLAND — The ceramic tile mural that fills the massive front window of the Medici Museum of Art is property of the Butler Institute of American Art, according to a judgment entry filed by Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew D. Logan.
Foundation Medici sued the Butler claiming ownership of the Pierre Soulages mural that was appraised at $650,000 when it was acquired in 2010. The museum at 9350 E. Market Street was the home of the Butler’s Trumbull Branch until last summer, when Foundation Medici notified the Youngstown-based museum it was severing its agreement and going to operate the building as a stand-alone gallery.
Foundation Medici provided the land and the bulk of funding for the building, which opened in 1996. The Butler moved out in November with its property. The Soulages mural was the last item, and its ownership was in dispute.
In the suit, the lawyer for Foundation Medici argued that the mural now is a permanent fixture of the building, and that money for an expansion of the museum to display the mural was raised with the understanding it would be displayed there permanently.
Logan sided with the Butler on both issues.
According to the entry, both Butler Executive Director Louis A. Zona and Bart Gilmore, who was involved in removing the mural from its original home in Pittsburgh and reinstalling it in Howland, testified that the framework holding the mural was designed for transportation.
“At the end of the day, once the Soulages is removed, Medici will still be able to display art in the annexed building on both the surrounding walls and the metal framework itself, should it so desire, Logan wrote. “(T)he evidence is indisputed that the deconstruction of the Soulages mural can be accomplished with minimal effect on the Medici building.”
Logan added there is no indication the Butler intended for the mural to be a permanent fixture and the Butler didn’t relinquish its right of ownership or possession by soliciting donations to build the annex in 2010.
“Butler may have solicited funds from donors in Trumbull County, including Trumbull 100 … However, there was no express requirement for the Soulages to remain in Trumbull County based on the evidence before the court,” Logan wrote.
The entry filed June 25 states the two institutions should cooperate and coordinate with each other to pick a date and time for removal within the next 30 days.
Foundation Medici’s attorney, Michael D. Rossi, said they haven’t decided yet whether they will appeal the decision handed down last month.
“We got it, sat on it over the holiday and are going to get together this week and make that decision,” Rossi said.
Zona declined to comment at this time, and the Butler’s attorney could not be reached for comment.