A Woman Scorned

Former Laumeier Director Beej Nierengarten-Smith points fingers and names names in her parting shot from THE Sculpture Park. She lets it fly, and some of it sticks.

But new board member Jim Reid was curious. Why ever did the previous board cancel the exhibition? Because the only members retained from the previous board were allies of Nierengarten-Smith, the explanation given by Jim Thompson was a little one-sided. "Spite" was the reason for the cancellation, said loyalist Thompson, who is back on board at the new Laumeier.

The Jensen board received considerably more criticism from the new, right-minded board. The minutes read, "The prior board did not raise any money. They spent a lot of money trying to prove Nierengarten-Smith was mishandling funds, but all audits proved no problems." Orchard, on hand to celebrate the vanquishing of the infidels, concluded the meeting by commending "the board for their integrity. He appreciates the new board and thinks Laumeier Sculpture Park is finally in capable hands."

Only Barbara Finch managed to disturb the new board's self-congratulatory nature. She was the lone dissenter in approving the Brazil exhibition, noting that despite the director's claims that the collection was bought for the good of the park, Nierengarten-Smith had vastly increased the value of her own collection with the purchase. Finch's dissent proved valid four years later, when Nierengarten-Smith was able to take a tax exemption for the full value of the artwork by donating it to the Museum of International Folk Art. With Laumeier paying the expenses, she gave herself an entrée into the Santa Fe art world as well. Brazil was not a heroic stand in favor of art in St. Louis but a shrewd investment that came back in spades.

Harold Goodman, chairman of Laumeier: "Whatever problems we've had ... there's no point in discussing them."
Jennifer Silverberg
Harold Goodman, chairman of Laumeier: "Whatever problems we've had ... there's no point in discussing them."

The last Nierengarten-Smith expense, Knicely's settlement, will be paid off by Laumeier soon.

The Laumeier board has yet to announce the name of its new director. He has been selected and will be employed by the nonprofit, a situation that chairman Goodman finds, in retrospect, more amenable to board and county alike. "It made no sense from a management standpoint to have the director as a county employee but more or less responsible to the board. It didn't work and it doesn't work. It was made very clear to me from day one that this situation has got to change."

As if a veil has been lifted from their eyes, those returning to the board are to be welcomed for their born-again spirit. Former board chair Harmon is back as a member, expecting easier times without Nierengarten-Smith around, although she approved all her excesses right along with Goodman. Judy Aronson, wife of Adam, remains on the board that saw no wrong.

Larry Mooney is back. When he was Westfall's assistant, he oversaw the dismantling of the board that attempted to depose Nierengarten-Smith in 1995. Mooney went from there to a judgeship. Jim Thompson, always quick with a letter to the press in support of the director, remains loyal to the service of the board.

Goodman beams about Laumeier's new director: "We think he's going to be with us for quite a while," he effuses.

You can be sure Aronson has approved of Nierengarten-Smith's successor. Aronson gets what he pays for.

"He's a young man and he's got a lot of good museum experience," Goodman continues. "He's very well read."

He'd be advised to read up on the sculpture park he's about to oversee. He could use a history lesson about who he works for, about Laumeier and about St. Louis. A story of responsibility -- and on whom it does and doesn't fall.

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