HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State officials plan to remove tens of millions of dollars' worth of art work and artifacts from Connecticut's Old State House, which has been closed to the public amid the state's budget problems.
The 220-year-old landmark was shuttered at the end of last month, when control of it shifted from the state Office of Legislative Management to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which runs 109 state parks.
Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the DEEP, said that agency does not have the financial resources to make sure the art, furniture and other memorabilia can remain safe and in the proper climate-controlled environment.
"The legislature gave us $400,000 for the Old State House and it's an $800,000 or $900,000 a year operation to maintain tours and have people there to maintain the valuables," he said. "Our overall budget was down more than $9 million. So, if we're going to take on the responsibility of this building, we need to minimize the cost and exposure for it."
Schain says the art work and other valuables are currently on loan to the Old State House and will be returned to their owners, while the state comes up with a plan for the future of the building.
The art includes five scenes by famed Revolutionary War artist John Trumbull, who is most famous for his painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It also includes an 1801 Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, which was commissioned for the building, but is owned by the Connecticut State Library.
Kendall Wiggin, the state librarian, said the plan is to return the painting, which is estimated to be worth $20 million, to public display in the library's Memorial Hall, where it once hung above the state's charter.
"If the Old State House was to reopen on a regular basis and met all of our security requirements, then we would probably work to have it put back there," Wiggin said. "I think that is the appropriate place for it, because that is what it was originally designed for."
The Wadsworth Atheneum, the Hartford art museum which owns the Trumbull paintings, said it has just begun talks about what will be done with them.
Last year, the Old State House, which includes a museum, educational center and shop, attracted about 53,000 visitors and hosted approximately 70 events.
The Old State House was built in 1796 and originally operated as one of the two Connecticut state Capitols. The other was in New Haven. The old Senate Chamber, where the Washington portrait currently hangs, appears as it did in 1820.