Speaking Out

'Old King Cole' on the Block

Unsettling news is that Penn's Mask and Wig Club is planning to sell off the original Maxfield Parrish mural painting, Old King Cole, and installing, in its place on the clubhouse wall, a printed reproduction.

On learning of the plan to consign it to auction at Christie's, a muffled cry of "shame" crossed my lips. Imagine, if you will, the French government selling the Eiffel Tower to Mitsubishi and replacing that structure with an Erector set copy.

Renting space on campus rooftops for much-needed revenue--I can live with that. Or perhaps even neon lights flashing "Coca- Cola" on the bridge over 38th Street--that too. But disposing of a treasured university icon for cash--I say a resounding no. Lives there an old Grad with soul so dead that he/she will not attend the auction in New York, May 23, checkbook in hand, grimly determined to out-bid all others?

Then, should fortune favor our champion, let Pennsylvanians join hands in urging the new mural owner to make the Beau Jeste.

King Cole must continue his reign at Penn, if not at the old clubhouse, then certainly on the West Philadelphia campus. There are any number of potential sites, ready to provide a new home for this treasured work of art: the Annenberg Center, the High Rise dorms, the Faculty Club, Houston Hall and the yet-to-be-constructed Perelman Quad-- to name a few. Singing "all ye loyal classmen," to the ramparts, I cry.

-- Maurice S. Burrison
Director, Faculty Club Art Gallery

Response to Mr. Burrison

This letter is in response to a letter the Almanac recently received from Maurice Burrison regarding the Mask & Wig Club's upcoming sale of its Maxfield Parrish mural, Old King Cole.

Sale of the Mask & Wig Club's Parrish art has not been a sudden, whimsical decision! The Board of Governors of the Mask & Wig Club, since July 1995, has carefully studied the options before it as the Club struggles to survive as an organization while losing money on an annual basis--both from its continued ownership of a National Historic Landmark clubhouse in Center City as well as the Club's raison d'etre, its Annual Production. Penn has been apprised of the Club's precarious fiscal situation, and warned of the prospect that the Club might be forced to sell assets (the Parrish Art) to survive. The Mask & Wig Club is clearly saddened by the factors which necessitate the sale of its historic and important art treasures and honestly wishes this were not necessary.

But the Mask & Wig Club of the University of Pennsylvania is separately incorporated from the University (the Club is chartered through the City of Philadelphia, not the University, and maintains its own tax-exempt status). Penn provides no financial support for the Club, its historic Clubhouse, or the production of the Club's Annual Production. As the fiscal crisis intensified, Penn's executive administration bluntly told the Club that it would have to fend for itself. How times have changed since the days when the Mask & Wig Club built a portion of the University Quadrangle and a Provost's residence, as well as providing the funds for the Chair of Dramatic Arts and the Graduate Manager of Student Activities (as they were called at the time).

I, and the Board, agree with Mr. Burrison and strongly hope that a generous Penn Grad may join the Club on May 23rd on Park Avenue and reclaim Old King Cole for the University. But the club must establish an endowment in order to remain a vibrant, significant part of the University. "Service to the University" through the continued production of the Club's Annual Production is the mission of the Mask & Wig Club. The Mask & Wig Club has done this for 108 years. I and the Board are determined that the Club will continue doing it for another 100 years! As the Club moves forward to May 23rd, I remain hopeful that two positive events may come out of this difficult situation--Pennsylvania will somehow acquire title to Old King Cole, and that Mask & Wig will be properly endowed in order to carry on its mission of service to the University for another 100 years.

-- Craig J. Klofach, CAS '84, GSFA '88
President, The Mask & Wig Club of the University of Pennsylvania

At top: Old King Cole (detail) by Maxfield Parrish


March 26, 1996
Volume 42 Number 25

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