It’s a saga fit for the silver screen, but its focus is some very real art: A family is battling over Norman Rockwell works that were allegedly stolen and hidden in the White House.
To understand what’s happening, you have to go all the way back to 1943. That year, Rockwell created sketches and watercolors depicting a day in the White House’s executive wing. The originals were given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s press secretary Stephen Early, and now his descendants are fighting over them, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, heirs of Early’s sons allege that Helen Early Elam, Early’s daughter, was involved in a scheme to loan the works to the White House in 1978 in order to “hide the Rockwells for a significant time period to ‘launder’ or ‘wash’ the ownership of artwork, in the effort to obtain sole ownership,” according to court documents reviewed by the WSJ. (The works were initially meant to be shared by the family.) The heirs believed that the art was in storage until Thomas Early, one of Stephen’s sons, saw them during a TV interview with then-President Donald Trump in the White House.
“Thomas was stunned,” Robert Goldman, a lawyer for the heirs, told the Wall Street Journal. “I’ve heard of people hiding secrets at the White House, but never art.”
David Fiske, a lawyer for Elam’s son, William Elam, counters that the allegations are “absolute fabrication,” and he told the WSJ that the Elams never stole anything. Rather, he said, Stephen gave the Rockwells to Helen, who later loaned them to the White House without ever trying to remain anonymous. “The notion that she lent these works to a building as public as the White House in order to hide them is ridiculously bogus,” Fiske said. (The White House declined to comment to the WSJ.)
Last summer, the White House removed the Rockwells and returned them to William, and a preliminary court hearing is scheduled for April 5. In the meantime, the White House has hung some photos of Joe Biden in their place, according to Politico.
That may be nice for the current president, but it doesn’t compare to having Norman Rockwell sketches on your wall.