As University of the Arts closes, estate of late "Indiana Jones" artist alleges fraudulent copyright filings
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Friday, July 19, 2024


As University of the Arts closes, estate of late "Indiana Jones" artist alleges fraudulent copyright filings
Most of the art collection in question was originally donated to the university by Dorian Hannaway, once a friend of Mr. Amsel.



PHILADELPHIA, PA.- With the recent closure of Phildelphia’s University of the Arts, Howard Feinberg and Adam McDaniel are inquiring about the fate of a large collection of original artwork by the late illustrator, Richard Amsel.

Mr. Amsel, one of the most popular illustrators of entertainment art in the 20th century, was known for his portraiture work of such luminaries as Barbra Streisand, Lily Tomlin, and Bette Midler, as well as numerous TV Guide covers, and iconic movie posters for Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sting, The Dark Crystal, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Mr. Amsel succumbed to AIDS complications in late 1985, at the age of 37.

Mr. Feinberg represents the Richard Amsel estate through the late Gary Bralow, to whom Mr. Amsel appointed as his sole executor and beneficiary. Mr. Bralow died in April 1990.

Mr. McDaniel is a filmmaker in California, who has been working on a documentary and book about Amsel’s life and career for several years. Both projects have received Mr. Feinberg’s support.

Most of the art collection in question was originally donated to the university by Dorian Hannaway, once a friend of Mr. Amsel. She then produced, in early 2009, a retrospective exhibit of select works within the university’s Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery. Yet Mr. Feinberg and Mr. McDaniel state that, in the 15 years since, university staff have either denied or ignored all requests to allow any of the work to be seen.

Now that University of the Arts has closed, Mr. Feinberg and Mr. McDaniel are demanding unrestricted access to Richard Amsel’s work, and the right to photograph it for the film and book, as well as for posterity.

Mr. McDaniel also states that from 2008 to 2022 (long after both Amsel’s and Bralow’s deaths), Ms. Hannaway filed various copyright claims to a large number of Amsel works, and that she did so entirely without any existing written legal agreements made with either Mr. Amsel or Mr. Bralow, or the permission from their respective estates. McDaniel believes that each of Ms. Hannaway’s copyright filings therefore constitute acts of fraud.

McDaniel’s letter to president Kerry Walk was mailed on the morning of Friday, May 31st. By coincidence, news of the university’s imminent closure was announced later that evening. Upon hearing this, McDaniel took the additional step of sending the message to Ms. Walk’s university email address. So far, he has not received a reply.

On June 4th, Walk announced her resignation from her position at the university. McDaniel and Feinberg are now left wondering who else to approach.

Here is the body McDaniel’s May 31st letter:

Dear President Walk:

I am writing to you to inquire about the university’s extensive collection of original artwork by the late illustrator Richard Amsel, which it received from Dorian Hannaway back in 2008 and 2009. I understand that this collection is still maintained by the university under what is deemed “The Richard Amsel Archive”.

To summarize my previous correspondence with your predecessors, including Mr. Mark Tocchet, I am a filmmaker who has spent over sixteen years researching Richard Amsel’s life and work in preparation for a forthcoming documentary and book. Since the film began production in 2015, I have made repeated requests to the university for access to the Amsel Archive, and also extended numerous invitations to interview one of your staff members. Each request was either refused outright, or dismissed without reply.

Following formal legal inquiries, and further extensive research into both the Richard Amsel estate and the nature of the archive, please be aware of the following:

• In his will, dated November 6th, 1985, Richard Amsel disowned his family, and designated Gary Sander Bralow as both the sole executor of his estate, and as its sole beneficiary. (Ms. Hannaway’s name is never mentioned.)

• Gary Bralow passed away in April 1990. He did not leave a written will, nor any written probate agreements, nor any written agreements regarding the rights to and ownership of Richard Amsel’s work. I have personally confirmed this with both Bralow’s surviving family, as well as through extensive research into probate records in New York City (where Amsel passed), and Bucks County, PA (where Bralow passed).

• My attorney, the late Harriett Beck, and I took the additional step of formally requesting, through certified mailings delivered Nov. 25, 2019 and Dec. 4, 2019, that Ms. Hannaway provide us with any written legal agreements that she might have made with Mr. Bralow, in order to substantiate her IP ownership claims. Ms. Hannaway failed to produce any such evidence.

• Additionally, I have documented testimonial from Mr. Randal Tolbert of North Carolina that, when he was producing his own retrospective art show on Amsel’s work back in 2007, Mr. Tolbert made a similar request for Ms. Hannaway to substantiate her IP ownership claims. Mr. Tolbert maintains that Ms. Hannaway also failed to produce any such evidence.

• With this, Ms. Beck and I then identified the rightful, current legal heir to the Richard Amsel estate: Mr. Howard Feinberg, who is Gary Bralow’s surviving nephew.

• Mr. Feinberg and I entered a contractual agreement, allowing me exclusive permission to use Richard Amsel’s work for both a documentary project and retrospective book.

• Mr. Feinberg maintains that in the 34 years since his uncle Gary Bralow’s death, neither Ms. Hannaway, nor any representative of University of the Arts, have ever reached out to Bralow’s family about the proper physical and intellectual ownership of Richard Amsel’s work.

• In spite of this, Ms. Hannaway has made numerous copyright filings to claim control of Amsel’s work. More recently, she even submitted a trademark application (which is still pending) of the “Richard Amsel” name. Such filings have been made without Howard Feinberg’s permission, and we believe Hannaway’s copyright filings constitute acts of fraud.

Mr. Feinberg and I believe that University of the Arts’ time to cooperate in this matter is long overdue. It is unfortunate that your institution has denied all requests to see the archive, which stands contrary to what was published in your press releases when you acquired the works in 2009.

It is also unfortunate that, upon accepting the collection, no one from the university performed their due diligence in researching the art’s rightful ownership and legacy.

Our first demand, which we hope you will honor, is unrestricted access to the entire archive, and the ability to photograph it for inclusion in the documentary and film.

Let us not avoid the larger issue, however: We call into question the rights to and ownership of Richard Amsel’s work, and we are currently weighing all legal options.

We do not state this lightly, especially when you consider the value of the artwork, and the university’s non-profit status. An alumnus of yours, the late Jerry Alten, personally informed me two years ago that the archive was valued in excess of $1 million USD – an amount that Ms. Hannaway received as a tax write-off. Does the university refute this?

We sincerely hope you’ll be willing to honor our initial request, and be open to further communications moving forward. We look forward to hearing from you.

Mr. McDaniel states that, since April of 2023, he had written numerous complaints to the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, and the Internal Revenue Service, expressing his concerns regarding Dorian Hannaway’s actions and the university’s handling of the Amsel collection. McDaniel does not know if the organizations have taken any steps to investigate.

As Mr. Feinberg and Mr. McDaniel await a response from the university, McDaniel has issued the following statement:

For many years, we have been fighting to preserve and champion Richard Amsel’s creative legacy. Yet from the beginning, Dorian Hannaway and University of the Arts have remained uncooperative.

We sincerely believe Ms. Hannaway’s attempts to own and control Amsel’s work (even recently filing a pending trademark application of his name) are not only brazenly self-serving, but, as in the case of her multiple copyright filings, fraudulent and illegal. As a result, we must consider taking legal action.

We also believe Ms. Hannaway’s actions regarding these works do not at all represent what either Richard Amsel or Gary Bralow would have wanted.

It was not our desire to go public with this story. Yet with the recent closure of University of the Arts, and president Walk’s resignation, time is now of the essence. Circumstances have forced our hand.

Nor was it our desire to mention Dorian Hannaway by name. The aim of the documentary and book is, first and foremost, to celebrate the life of an artist we lost all too soon; we have no interest in fueling any perceived malice. However, because of Ms. Hannaway’s ongoing attempts to irrevocably brand herself onto Amsel’s name and work, and entirely disregard the Amsel/Bralow estate, the time has finally come for us to speak the truth, and fight for what is right.

We hope in its wisdom University of the Arts will cooperate.

Richard Amsel died almost 40 years ago. With the uncertain fate of this collection, most of which has never before been published, it is with heavy hearts that we fear so much of his work now stands to be lost all over again.

For More Information:

AMSEL: ILLUSTRATOR OF THE LOST ART official documentary website:
www.richardamselmovie.com

The film’s teaser trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUDSBw0ACFU

Details on the book:
https://www.richardamselmovie.com/the-book










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