Lawsuit halts plans for new art and museum venue in New Salem

  • The front desk of the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The Great Room of the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Merchandise at the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • “Genevieve’s Apples” by artist Jeffrey Ripple hangs in the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • A painting by artist Will St. John hangs at the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Paintings by artist British artist Stephen Mackey hang at the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • A 2010 piece titled “Without Work” hangs in the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. It was painted by museum Director Michael Klein, who now lives upstairs with his wife, Nelida, as around-the-clock caretakers. The painting’s subject is Nelida’s father. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • An original 1898 John Singer Sargent portrait titled “Mrs. Charles Anstruther-Thomson” hangs next to an original 1993 Andrew Wyeth piece titled “Marriage” in the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • The third-floor artists’ studio at the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • Opening the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. is on hold. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • “A Winter’s Tale of Sprites and Goblins” by Dennis Miller Bunker hangs in the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 9/29/2022 11:54:49 AM
Modified: 9/29/2022 11:54:51 AM

NEW SALEM — The New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art is ready to get up and running, but has not obtained a certificate of occupancy — something the owners believe won’t be secured until a state Land Court lawsuit has been resolved.

Husband and wife Vincent and Laura Barletta bought 37 South Main St. from Vincent’s mother about 2½ years ago with hopes of displaying their art collection for the public’s enjoyment and hosting events for a fee. But some in town are concerned about noise pollution, alcohol use and environmental impacts.

A lawsuit was filed in state Land Court about a year and a half ago by abutters Steven and Jane Schoenberg, Peter and Sandra Fisher, Dorothy Johnson and Susan Arnold, who objected to the special permit issued to the Barlettas by the Planning Board, which is listed as a defendant along with the Barlettas. Johnson is listed as a plaintiff but died in February.

Phil Delorey, New Salem’s building inspector, said the Barlettas have all necessary permits but no certificate of occupancy for the museum portion of the building due to issues with the facility’s septic systems. However, there is a certificate of occupancy for the upstairs living space.

But the Barlettas said the town’s Board of Health has issued approval of the systems. Attempts to reach health board members were unsuccessful Tuesday. Vincent Barletta believes New Salem’s town counsel — the law firm Mirick O’Connell — has advised Delorey not to issue an occupancy certificate until the lawsuit is heard, which Barletta believes could take up to three years. Delorey declined to comment further.

The Barlettas provided the Greenfield Recorder with a walking tour of the three-floor facility on Sept. 22.

“The majority of pieces in the collection are living artists, and most of them are under the age of, I would say, 55,” Laura said. “There’s a little bit of everything. We’ve got some modern things, some very technical things.”

A painting studio on the top floor is expected to be the site of workshops conducted by the artists who are featured in the Barlettas’ collection. According to the facility’s website, the academy’s curriculum “will be based on the concept of a graduate program, where students can immerse themselves in the different techniques displayed throughout the collection.”

Vincent, who owns Barletta Engineering/Heavy Division in Canton, explained that his parents in 1988 purchased the building, which used to house a dormitory and home economics education facility for New Salem Academy, where Vincent Barletta’s grandmother was a student. The school closed in 1969.

There is an entrance/exit on the building’s south side, with merchandise on display and a front desk. The Great Room, as Vincent’s parents called it, has a piano as well as the first paintings guests will see. Laura Barletta said there are about 70 hanging pieces that will be rotated.

“We’re just going to kind of wait and see … how many people end up coming through,” she said.

The first-floor central gallery used to be a parlor, where the Barlettas had their wedding reception after getting married in a church down the street. Laura explained she and her husband have been collecting art for about 15 years, ever since they visited New York City for an anniversary and purchased an original Michael Klein painting they saw and fell in love with.

Klein is now the museum’s director, and he and his wife, Nelida, live upstairs as around-the-clock caretakers.

Some of Michael Klein’s pieces hang on the museum’s walls. One of those works is a 2010 piece depicting a man lying down while deep in thought.

“That’s my father-in-law,” Klein explained. “He built my studio down in Argentina, and they have 10 kids. The story behind the picture is that he’s thinking about the family. It’s called ‘Without Work.’ He’s laying there, thinking about how he’s going to provide.”

The Barlettas’ collection also includes an original 1993 Andrew Wyeth piece titled “Marriage” and an original 1898 John Singer Sargent portrait titled “Mrs. Charles Anstruther-Thomson.” The Barlettas, who live in Weston, hope these original pieces by famous painters will draw guests to the gallery to fall in love with newer artists.

Laura said she would like to rename the building’s galleries following some sizable monetary donations.

The facility has already hosted three students — two Americans and a German attending the Florence Academy of Art in Italy.

More information is available at newsalemmuseum.com.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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