'Great Minds,' controversial painting, leaves Trumbull Library

While some battled to have it taken down much sooner, a controversial painting at the Trumbull Library stayed up through early May — the scheduled closing of the exhibit.

The controversial painting that made headlines in Trumbull and beyond was packed up last week with the rest of The Great Minds collection. Women of Purpose, a painting by artist Robin Morris, still bears the marks of vandalism on the face of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and one of the figures in the work. Those marks will stay put, according to collection owner and Trumbull resident Dr. Richard Resnick.

“The defacing incident made one specific painting more significant than it should have been, and it will remain as it is for future exhibits,” Resnick said this week.

This week Trumbull police Lt. Leonard Scinto said there are no new leads in the investigation into the vandalism. The suspect has not been identified or charged.

The crime happened March 11, while the library board met in a nearby conference room, discussing the art and the controversy around it. (See a video taken the night of the vandalism, here).

A Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus, initially raised concerns about the painting, asking that it be taken down. Members said they found it offensive for depicting Mother Teresa and Margaret Sanger — at opposite ends from one another — in the same artwork. They took those concerns to First Selectman Tim Herbst, who initially ordered that the painting be taken down, citing legal concerns. After much back-and-forth, media coverage and debate in town, the painting went back up, after a basic legal agreement was signed.

On March 11, the board heard from several people who were upset by the painting, citing religious reasons and saying that Mother Teresa would never stand with Sanger,  who supported birth control and found common cause with proponents of eugenics. Later in the meeting, it was discovered the painting had been vandalized.

Two high school students witnessed a woman, described as a white female in her mid 30s with shorter dark hair, wearing a long teal skirt, with a black-and-white shirt, black overcoat, and a satchel or purse. Police said she used lipstick or a crayon to draw on the painting.

With the exhibit moving on, Resnick reflected this week on the controversy. In a letter to the library board, he expressed some frustration.

“I have watched from afar the proceedings of the town political machine, the so-called independent library committee, and the unfortunate reactions of some misinformed closed-minded individuals to an art collection that requires some intellectual thought and not visceral dislike for religious reasons and misinterpretation when the biographies made the meaning clear,” he wrote. “If we cannot separate church and state in a small town, in a public library, imagine how challenged our country is.”
Resnick also thanked Director Susan Horton and members of the library board for overcoming what he called “political pressure to defend our basic freedoms.”

Back in March, First Selectman Herbst condemned the vandalism and said it was an example of why he was pushing for a legal agreement that would indemnify the town against any damages.

At the March 11 meeting, the Library Board discussed working on a draft of an indemnity agreement for all future exhibits, to protect the town liability concerns, raised by Herbst and town attorneys.
Great Minds
The Great Minds exhibit opened at the library in October, months before the controversy erupted.

The collection consists of 33 large canvases, painted by contemporary artist Robin Morris. As the name of the collection suggests, each painting depicts one or more great thinkers in human history, some living and some dead, who helped shape our world today.

It was meant to stimulate debate and discussion, Resnick said. It was also an interactive exhibit, seeking suggestions on new “great minds” for the exhibit.

“There were about 125 suggestions, 15% of which suggested Great Minds already in the exhibit,” he said. “The others varied from political figures, philosophers, entertainers, athletic heroes, religious reformers, artists, musicians, writers, as well as Spiderman, Hitler, and Eve, the wife of Adam.

“There were some interesting suggestions worthy of consideration,” he said. “I will have all summer to think about it.”

Resnick said he is not sure where the exhibit will go next. It has been displayed at Fairfield University and Colgate University.

“One problem is that it may be very hard to find a ‘public’ forum for this entire exhibit simply because religious controversy, misinterpreted or not, probably would make many selection committees leery of risking the hate of organized religious groups who have differing opinions about art interpretation, which in this case acted as a distraction to the real and important meaning of this entire art collection of The Great Minds throughout history,” he said.

“[It was] meant to inspire discussion, constructive criticism, historical information, and intellectual debate, [and] after the incident, many viewers just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And that, in my opinion, was too bad.”