Monday, March 31, 2008

President of Wharton Estate Resigns

From the Associated Press

President of Wharton Estate Resigns

By MARK PRATT – 23 hours ago

BOSTON (AP) — The president and chief executive of the financially troubled estate of author Edith Wharton has stepped down rather than assume a different position in a restructured management hierarchy, trustees announced Sunday.

The five-member board of trustees at The Mount in Lenox said in a statement that they have accepted the resignation of Stephanie Copeland "with regret."

The organization that owns the estate, Edith Wharton Restoration, has borrowed $4.3 million for operating costs, but in January missed a $30,000 payment, prompting a bank to start foreclosure proceedings.

The estate made the payment with a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but it still trying to raise $3 million. So far about $570,000 has been raised, trustee Gordon Travers said Sunday.

An anonymous donor has promised another $3 million over five years if the fundraising goal is reached.

"Right now, we're month to month," he said.

The board determined that the future of The Mount lay in restructuring management.

"We concluded that if we made it through this fundraising campaign, if we had a future, we needed to separate finance and administration from the creative side," Travers said.

Copeland had essentially been fulfilling both tasks, but under the restructuring was offered the position of creative leader, which she rejected, the trustees said in a statement.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Open Meeting at The Mount, 3/31/08

From the Berkshire Eagle:

Mount's debt to be open book
By Ellen G. Lahr, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Article Last Updated: 03/17/2008 10:00:38 AM EDT

Monday, March 17
You have questions? The Mount — hopefully — has answers.

Town officials and the local business community are teaming up to host a public meeting about The Mount at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 31, at Town Hall.

The Selectmen and the Lenox Chamber of Commerce are hosting the event, which The Mount's CEO and president, Stephanie Copeland, said is intended to answer as many questions as possible.

The Mount is in debt to its creditors by more than $8.7 million, and Berkshire Bank is threatening to foreclose on the historic home of Edith Wharton. The Mount has until April 24 — a deadline that was recently extended a month — to raise $3 million toward its bank debt of $4.3 million.

"So many people have questions, and it would be good to bring everyone in," Copeland said.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Mount has until April 24 to raise the $3 million

From the Berkshire Eagle:

Mount granted a month for debt
Berkshire Bank agrees to extend the deadline for Edith Wharton's estate to pay $3 million
By Ellen G. Lahr, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Article Last Updated: 03/15/2008 05:21:21 AM EDT

Saturday, March 15
LENOX — Berkshire Bank, which is warning of foreclosure proceedings against The Mount, has extended a deadline to raise $3 million following a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Berkshire said it had extended the deadline by 30 days. The Mount, the historic house and gardens of 19th century novelist Edith Wharton, now has until April 24 to come up with $3 million required by the bank, to clear up a large chunk of the $4.3 million owed on its mortgage and line of credit, which are in default.

The bank's total debt is more than $8.7 million, and its payments to all other major creditors are in default.

Stephanie Copeland, president and CEO of the Edith Wharton Restoration, said Berkshire Bank has "very graciously" agreed to the extension in light of new funds, which will cover operations for another 30 days.

Since Feb. 24, The Mount has raised more than $520,000 with an all-out fundraising blitz that seizes on the bank's foreclosure threat. The new, $30,000 grant will boost the numbers further.

"We have some very good friends in very high places who made this possible," Copeland said. "The National Endowment is extremely
concerned about The Mount, and saving it."

"We are all over this," said board trustee Gordon Travers, who said he and the trustees are on the phone almost daily with each other and with Copeland.

Meanwhile, however, The Mount's prized collection of Edith Wharton's private library collection, purchased in 2005 for $2.5 million, could be in jeopardy.

British bookseller George Ramsden is owed $900,000 in connection with the book sale and did not receive his second scheduled payment last year. He holds a secured lien on the books and has sent a letter indicating he will reclaim them if The Mount cannot make good on its payments.

Copeland said she understood the letter was as "a pro forma" communication to secure Ramsden's rights, and was not immediately concerned. (Read the rest)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mireille Giuliano on The House of Mirth


In my early 20s, I "met" author Edith Wharton in a literature class while I was living in Paris and attending the Sorbonne. Right away, I felt I had a friend.

. . . .

I have read The House of Mirth half a dozen times, and I am always saddened to see Lily alone, without parents or friends she can trust. I am angered that she does not see the good friend and mate her friend Selden could be, just because he lacks a grand income. Why is this charming woman so bad at making decisions that are in her self-interest?

Lily wants happiness like all young adults starting out in life; she also wants a lot of money. So, she rejects some viable options, takes advice from the wrong people, and does not listen to her heart.

Part of Wharton's achievement is that she makes us care for Lily, who is trapped in her times but in herself as well. I respect Lily's integrity, drive, honesty and character, but I am angered and saddened by her materialism, her social game-playing and acquiescence to being an accessory or an ornament.

I want to reach out and advise and help her. I'd want Lily to learn about what one can control in life and what one cannot (like wanting it all and wanting it now). I'd like to change her values so that simplicity and quality over quantity rule her desires and needs.

I'd want Lily Bart to work on the magical "know thyself" so that she could truly learn from her mistakes and understand the meaning of inner versus outer beauty. I'd like her to understand the value of cultivating true friendship and love, and to find a joie de vivre where balance and happiness are the main ingredients to satisfy body and mind.

Discovering The House of Mirth helped me understand what I wanted from life. Most of all, the novel is a timeless guidebook to discovering the kind of values I've embraced. Rereading it now gives me added pleasures. Merci, Edith Wharton.