The paintings were part of a large mural known as “The Fruits of Iowa” commissioned in 1932 by businessman Eugene Eppley to hang in the Hotel Montrose in Cedar Rapids.
The Eppley Foundation donated the paintings to Coe College in 1976 with a letter saying they should hang in the college’s Stewart Memorial Library along with a plaque honoring Eppley. The college had considered the paintings an unrestricted gift that could be sold until an auditor determined otherwise in 2016.
The college’s endowment worth dropped by $5.4 million with the reclassification and the school asked to change the status or for a modification of the restrictions to allow them to be sold. The Eppley Foundation is no longer in place, so it could not change the designation.
The district court held a hearing on the issue and ruled that there indeed exists a restriction on the paintings. The court also ruled that Iowa Code sections dealing with funds and assets did no apply in this case, and declined to modify the restriction.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruling agrees with the lower court. It says that the justices are not convinced that implementing the Eppley Foundation’s specific charitable purpose of honoring Eppley and dignifying and beautifying the Coe campus through the display of the Wood paintings in the library has become impossible or impracticable.
And it says “while the court understands the difficulties faced by small private colleges in a trying financial environment, it is difficult to see this fortuitous increase in the value of an asset as rendering the original restrictions impracticable or impossible to meet on the present record.”
It does says that on a different and more robust record, lifting the restrictions on alienability of some or all the paintings might be appropriate.
Here’s the ruling: Coe College Grant Wood opinion PDF