A descendant of William H. Seward who has criticized the removal of a valuable painting from the Seward House Museum will explain in court why he should be appointed an administrator of Seward's grandson's estate.
Cayuga County Surrogate's Court Judge Thomas Leone issued an order to show cause to the Rev. Ray Messenger, a great-great grandson of the former secretary of state. A court date has been set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 7.
Messenger filed a petition with the court in March seeking appointment as an administrator of the estate. The petition came after the Fred L. Emerson Foundation and the Seward House Museum board announced the removal of a Thomas Cole painting, "Portage Falls on the Genesee," from the museum. The foundation plans on selling the painting, which was a gift to Seward when he was governor of New York, through a public auction or private sale. The museum and foundation will split the proceeds.
In his will, William H. Seward III — William H. Seward's grandson — left the mansion, property and its contents to the Emerson Foundation. For more than 50 years after Seward III died, the foundation operated the home as a museum. In 2008, due to state museum regulations, the home, property and its contents were transferred to the Seward House Museum.
However, when the foundation made the transfer, they retained ownership of the Cole painting. The painting is valued at $18 million, according to the foundation's tax filings.
The foundation announced its plans to sell the painting in February. In a letter to Seward House Museum supporters, Emerson Foundation President Anthony Franceschelli and Seward House Museum board president Dan Fisher said "it is no longer responsible or prudent to leave the painting at the Seward House Museum."
"As a result of that decision, the painting has been removed from the Museum and placed in a secure location," they wrote.
Messenger and other Seward descendants have criticized the decision. In a recent interview with The Citizen, Messenger explained why he has petitioned the court asking to be appointed an administrator of William H. Seward III's estate.
"I believe it's the only way you can legally have a seat at the table and represent the interests of the deceased," he said.
Attorneys for the foundation oppose the petition. In an argument submitted to the court, they have asked Leone to deny Messenger's request.
"It is respectfully submitted that (Messenger's) application is without basis in fact or law and should therefore be summarily denied," the attorneys said.