Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Trade Active in Stolen Native American Art

A huge amount of heart is involved in the crafting of art, and that includes not just painting, or sculpting, or weaving, but writing, singing, or film-making. When the expressions of a person's soul are stolen, plagiarized, copied, or pirated, it hurts not just the artist, who loses livelihood and a chunk of themselves. Society pays a price in the loss of integrity, beauty, and money. In Reluctant Runaway, FBI Agent Tony Lucano's pirated property case illustrates the point.
In the case of Native American Art, there is an organization that assists law enforcement in tracking down stolen goods and hopefully catching some thieves. The Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association (ATADA) keeps a detailed data base of stolen U.S. Native American Art. The Cerno Acoma Seed Jar above was taken from an Arizona home in December 0f 2006, along with a variety of other pottery and native rugs. None of the items have been recovered to date.

For more details and pics:

Trade in these items thrives on collectors willing to purchase them, no questions asked. These under the table resales are the most difficult to track down.

Or the thieves wait until the trail cools and try to sell them to legitimate dealers a distance from the original theft. A rug stolen from a museum was recently recovered due to the fast action of a trader in Gallup, NM, who recognized the rug from the ATADA data base.

For more details and pics:

Thieves more desperate for quick cash may offer the items at pawn shops, thinking that pawn dealers don't care where their merchandise comes from. Wrongo! There are definitely honest pawn brokers out there, as one thief discovered.

Here's a quote from the happy owner of recovered goods: "Last week, a young woman showed up at a pawn shop in Albuquerque offering three of our stolen textiles for sale. The pawn shop called a dealer who alerted us. She subsequently sold 17 Navajo rings that were stolen from Coulter Brooks Art & Antiques to another dealer. " Sorry, missy, bet you're cooling your heels behind bars now.

Oh, and here's another wrinkle on the illicit trade in Native American artifacts--chemically treat the works of contemporary Native American artists to make them appear old.
Here's what ATADA has to say: "It has come to our attention that some Mission baskets have appeared in the market. These are very high quality Mission baskets by contemporary basketmakers of good repute that have been treated by a third party to look old. These baskets have fooled some experienced basket dealer (including some ATADA members) and have been sold at auction and in the antique Indian and Tribal Art marketplace at very high prices. We alert collectors and dealers to be alert so as not to be taken by this scam. "
I'll bet the artisans are sick at heart at what was done to their work. Not only did someone deliberately alter their hard work and livelihood, but the con artists removed all mention of their names associated with the pieces and made big bucks doing it! I'm no weaver or potter, but I'm steamed anyway. What is your gut reaction?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

After Nearly Thirty Years, Cezanne Goes Home

It’s amazing to me just how long stolen pieces of art can remain hidden. Good grief, people are still uncovering art lost or stolen during World War II. The particular piece I’m talking about today is a 29.3 million dollar still life by Paul Cezanne that was taken in 1978, along with six other paintings.

Evidently the owner of the painting, Michael Backwin, feels the same amazement. In a press release, he stated, “People seem to get away with all kinds of stuff when it comes to art robbery.”

What’s so convoluted about this recovery is that the guy arrested with the painting at Boston’s Logan Airport on Tuesday, February 13, isn’t the original thief. He’s the thief’s lawyer!

The burglar who took the paintings was killed over a gambling debt just a year after the heist. (Rather a character-revealing way to go, eh?) And his shyster lawyer’s been wiggling around trying to find a way to fence the goods ever since. His latest brainstorm was to broker a deal with the owner, Backwin, using a Panamanian corporation as a front. Well, Mr. Clever Barrrister, got the handcuffs instead.

Greed is greed, is greed, is greed!

There’s a bunch more to the tale, and the Art Loss Register played a key role in the recovery. If you’re into art (as you probably are if you’re reading this blog), you might want to check out the ALR site. They’ve got some pretty cool information over there.