TRENTON – Greed has a new name: Thomas Edison State University.
Trenton stakeholders are up in arms over the capital city college’s decision to part ways with NC Wyeth’s famous painting of George Washington’s visit to Trenton in 1789.
Wells Fargo gifted the painting to the university in 2019 with the understanding that it would remain in its possession for at least three years.
University officials told The Trentonian that the three-year moratorium expired, freeing up the painting to be sold to the highest bidder.
The Board of Trustees approved the sale at its June 10 meeting, and the university plans to use some of the proceeds for an “exciting new initiative for the City of Trenton very soon.”
“Every decision the university makes is through the lens of our mission and in the best interest of our students,” said Victoria Monaghan, a spokeswoman for Thomas Edison State University.
But members of the Trenton Historical Society accused the university of not having the city’s best interests in mind.
The nonprofit set up a protest table and circulated fliers outside the school the last few weeks, hoping to change the college’s president, Merodie Hancock’s mind about the impending sale of one of the most iconic of the 3,000 paintings composed by Wyeth, who is considered one of America’s greatest illustrators.
According to the Brandywine River Museum’s NC Wyeth Catalog, the artist used an article published in the Columbian Magazine on April 25,1789, describing Washington’s entrance into Trenton, as a reference for the mural’s creation. He painted it in Chadds Ford, Pa., studio.
“It’s priceless. We’re hoping other people that are in government above the college would take note of what they’re doing and say, ‘You can’t do that,'” said Karl Flesch, vice president of the Trenton Historical Society, adding the organization also planned to organize a letter-writing campaign to Gov. Phil Murphy. “We will continue to be a thorn in their side. The plan is to keep doing this through the summer, through the fall, whatever it takes.”
The nonprofit already drew support from Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who decried as “shortsighted” the university’s decision to sell off a piece of history.
He hoped state officials intervene to find the painting a home at the New Jersey State Museum or the Statehouse.
“That’s a masterpiece. I hope they don’t replace it with a finger painting,” Gusciora said. “You would just hope they would reconsider this and think of the long-term consequences. Once that [money’s] spent, all you have is the memories.”
The university did not say whether it has any offers so far for the oil on canvas mural formally titled, “Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton on his way to New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency of the United States .”
It was commissioned in 1930 by First Mechanics National Bank, a legacy company of Wells Fargo. The bank Initial loaned the mural to the university in 2013, when it moved out of its West State Street headquarters to another location in Trenton.
The piece was officially gifted to the university six years later in what was described as the largest donation in the school’s history. It stood in the atrium of Thomas Edison State University’s main entrance, at 101 West State Street, ever since.
“It’s wrong on so many levels. They’re just taking advantage of the situation. Everyone is feeling a sense of betrayal,” said Algernon Ward Jr., a member of the Trenton Historical Society’s Board of Trustees. “It’s a violation of the public’s trust.”
Trenton is steeped in Revolutionary War history, and Washington’s crossing of the icy Delaware River in December 1776 and win at the Battle of Trenton signaled a pivotal turning point for the Americans.
At the time it was gifted to the university, Hancock seemed to grasp the mural’s significance to Trenton, saying the college looked forward to “showcasing it even more in the future.”
Her tune drastically changed in Thursday’s statement to The Trentonian.
“While this was a unique gift in the history of our university, gifts to the University are ultimately meant to further our mission to educate and empower working adults,” Hancock said. “It is our great hope that this painting will find a new home where it can be more widely viewed and enjoyed while at the same time helping us further progress the TESU mission.”