Beetle Bailey looking to camp in art gallery

Beetle, Sarge and the gang may have found a new haven for Camp Swampy.

In 1974, Mort Walker, the creator of the comic strip “Beetle Bailey,” opened in Greenwich what would later become the International Museum of Cartoon Art. Now, after years in Rye, N.Y., and Boca Raton, Fla., the museum’s collection is returning to Connecticut and may become a part of the Yale University Art Gallery.

The deal is far from done, however.

“We are still in negotiations with the owners, but nothing has been decided at this time,” gallery administrator Bernice Parent said in an e-mail.

One of the sticking points is how much it will cost for Yale to maintain the collection, which Walker, a Connecticut resident, hopes to affiliate with a university in New England.

“This comes with a small endowment, but it’s not enough to pay for its own building or create a staff or preserve this thing the way the Walkers want to see it,” said Barbara Lamb, New Haven’s director of cultural affairs.

Walker did not return calls to his Stamford studio last night. But Lamb said Walker is committed to placing the collection in a location where many people can take advantage of its vast holdings.

Boca Raton, the collection’s most recent home, was not the place to do that, she said.

“It’s been fairly successful down there,” Lamb said. “They’ve run a couple of shows, but not as many as they would have like to have seen.”

One of the main problems with keeping the collection in Florida is that the population is cyclical, Lamb said.

Before the University agrees to take custody of the collection, which includes over 250,000 works, it must determine where to display the collection and how to catalogue its contents for the first time.

“They don’t know even what they’ve got,” Lamb said.

Nevertheless, gallery Director Jock Reynolds is set to examine the collection, which Lamb said has been shipped from Boca Raton to a storage facility in Connecticut.

But while city and University officials are approaching the program with cautious optimism, not everyone is as hopeful about the success of the project.

Frances “Bitsie” Clark, the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, said that cartoons may not appeal to a large segment of the population.

“The problem with cartoons is that it may be a somewhat limited audience, unless it is going to do major exhibits on famous political cartoons or current political cartoons,” she said.

But Lamb said she anticipates the cartoon museum will attract families to New Haven, adding that it can also serve academics who want to study the collection’s wide variety of current and historical political cartoons, in addition to the syndicated funnies.

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