Showing posts with label private collection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label private collection. Show all posts

February 28, 2019

In pursuit of restitution: FBI asks representatives of Native American tribes and foreign authorities and indigenous tribes for assistance in identifying material remains catalogued as part of from the Don Miller forfeiture

Image Credit : FBI
When US law enforcement agents raided the rural Rush county home of Don Miller in Indiana four years ago, the execution of that search warrant resulted in the largest single recovery of cultural property in FBI history. 

Since that time, the Bureau’s Art Crime division has been tasked with identifying just who are the rightful owners of more than 7,000 objects from around the globe that were found in the now-deceased collector's main residence.  The objects once filled the house where Miller resided with his wife, his basement, a second, unoccupied residence on the property; and several outbuildings, accessible via a tunnel which connected the house to the adjoining buildings. 

Prior to the Federal seizure Miller had made no secret that he was an avid collector, even going so far as to have area schoolchildren over for tours of his amateur museum.   Much of his collection was displayed inside carefully labeled glass showcases or spread out on folding tables.   An individual well-known in his community, Miller was also profiled in local papers who wrote articles about his artifacts, about his service during World War II and about his connection to the Manhattan Project where he helped build the world's first atomic bomb. 

Cooperating throughout the investigation, Miller voluntarily waived his title to all of the seized objects prior to his death at 91 in 2015.  As part of that cooperation, he relinquished the artefacts that he had acquired in violation of state and federal law and international treaties. 

Some of the anthropological and archaeological Miller collected over his lifetime included:

Native American arrowheads, points and projectiles from throughout the western United States
40 pre-Columbian artifacts
hundreds of terracotta vases
two fossilized eggs
an Egyptian sarcophagus
500 sets of human remains looted largely from Native American burial grounds
a life-size Chinese terracotta figurine
an Italian mosaic
a South American dugout canoe
a bear skin rug
carved boomerangs
an 1873 Winchester carbine purportedly fired by a Lakota Indian at the Battle of Little Big Horn;
a Tibetan bell
jade, purportedly form the Ming Dynasty
bullet casings detected by a metal detector at Civil War battlefields
a chunk of concrete that Miller purportedly claimed was from the bunker in which Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

The task of returning the forfeited objects to their rightful owners is not an easy one.  Nor is it easy to determine which artefacts crossed the line from legal to illegal or were the result of outright looting.  Additionally no single art historian or archaeologist can singularly provide the US government authorities with sufficient expertise about the origins of every object that Miller had in his possession as the collection itself was extremely varied.

Image Credit: FBI
To adjust for this, the FBI has reached out to tribal authorities, academic experts, archaeologists and anthropologists for assistance in identifying the material.  Assisted by museum studies students, the objects were carefully documented, preserved and curated into what would later become an invitation-only digital archive, where the relinquished cultural artefacts can be viewed by experts working towards their restitution. 

Screen Capture:  FBI digital archive, Via FBI.
To help with the identification of human and archaeological remains from North America, the FBI also contacted all of the federally recognised Native American tribes, some 600 in total, for their assistance in determining material of their tribal origin. The authorities also hope to gain further assistance from governments around the world as well as from the indigenous tribes from outside North America.

September 30, 2016

May 13, 1999 - Private Collection Theft, F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV, Den Bosch, The Netherlands

Vincent Van Gogh The Willow, 1885 with Dr. H,J, Hijmersma,
conservator to the F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV Collection
Sometime between the evening of May 13 and the morning of May 15 in 1999 a early Vincent van Gogh painting titled The Willow, 1885 was stolen from the headquarters of F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV in Den Bosch in the Netherlands. s-Hertogenbosch is the official name of the city, but colloquially almost everybody refers to the city as Den Bosch, which translates in English to mean 'the Duke’s Forest'. F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV is the oldest bank in the Netherlands. 

In March 2006 the bank contacted authorities stating that a gentleman had approached them asking about a reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen work of art.  The bank in turn contacted the authorities. 

Two suspects, the suspected thief, who was at one time a cleaner for the bank and the would-be seller/award seeker were then approached by undercover officers who posed as insurance art loss adjusters interested in buying back the painting. 

Both individuals were arrested and the painting was recovered.  It is now back in the bank's collection.  

By Lynda Albertson

March 29, 2015

Indystar Reports Death of Don Miller, 91-year-old man whose private collection of artifacts the FBI seized last year

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Jill Disis reported March 26 for Gannet's Indystar that Indiana resident and electrical engineer Don Miller died at the age of 91, one year after the FBI seized his collection of antiquities and artifacts:
News reports in the aftermath of the government seizure were awash with tales from those who had seen his collection, which reportedly included Aztec figurines, Ming Dynasty jade and an Egyptian sarcophagus. Miller never faced any charges related to his collection. No lawsuits were filed against him in the year since the seizure. In his final months, townsfolk told The Indianapolis Star he had disappeared from public life. And even after his death, progress of the federal investigation remains shrouded in mystery. FBI Special Agent Drew Northern declined to comment about the case Tuesday night. Officials from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology department, which is assisting the FBI in identifying and preserving the artifacts, also would not comment. But a legal expert told The Star it could take years, if not decades, before experts can sort out the legalities of the thousands of objects seized by the government.
Here's a link to the ARCA Blog's earlier post on the FBI seizure (along with a perspective by retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry and anthropologist Kathleen Whitaker).

January 27, 2014

Postcard from Skara, Sweden: An unexpected collection of Swedish art at the Jula Hotell and Konference

Skrämda, Anders Zorn 1912
by A.M.C. Knutsson

Having travelled quite extensively in the last year, I have had the privilege to come across some very interesting places, both planned and unplanned. Some of the least expected being the gallery-hotel, a hotel that houses a large collection of original art. Arriving late one night in one of Sweden’s oldest towns, Skara, I completely missed the large sign hanging by the side of the road announcing that the hotel I was approaching housed one of the largest private collections of paintings by Anders Zorn (1860-1920) in Sweden.

I was therefore completely unprepared for what awaited me upon entering the modern-looking hotel. The walls were tastefully dressed with masterly portraits and enticing nudes. The works accounted for most of the great names in Swedish art from Anders Zorn to Carl Larsson (1853-1919, the figurehead of the Swedish Arts and Crafts Movement).

Steeped, as I irrevocably am, in the world of art crime one of my first thoughts went to the security arrangements of this magnificent collection. My interest was met with great hospitality and the following morning I was met by the hotel manager, Catarine Larsson, for a talk about the collection.

The collection as well as the hotel are the creations of Lars-Göran Blank, founder of the Swedish company Jula, founded in 1979 to sell woodcutters now has shops across Sweden, Norway and Poland, supplying everything related to house and garden maintenance.

Watercolour by Carl Larsson
Lars-Göran Blank inherited his interest in art from his father and spent most of his childhood frequenting museums. Due to his entrepreneurial success, he suddenly found himself in a position to be able to act on his interests. In 2007 Jula Hotell and Konference was built and before long exquisite art started appearing on its walls. The employees, which included Catarine Larsson, were at first unsure how to react to the art that appeared around them. They had never been involved in protecting valuable art before. ‘We were worried,’ Ms. Larsson explained, ‘we didn’t know if we could tell anyone about the paintings. But then the owner put up a huge sign by the road, so then we understood that it was fine.’ 

Mr. Blank is proud of his collection, and rightly so. In addition to probably the largest private collection of Zorn paintings in Sweden, paintings by Carl Larsson, Bruno Liljefors (1860-1939, Wildlife painter), and some paintings by Blank’s own hand can be found in the hotel.

Through the help and assistance of the Jula Security department and an insurance company, an all-encompassing security policy has been developed for the collection. When the hotel was renovated in 2012, it was designed with the safety of the collection in mind; subsequently, a large portion of the paintings were moved from the dining room to a specially constructed art gallery. The hotel consulted a local museum about how to properly hang and display the collection which resulted in a tasteful and safe new home for the paintings. Great care was taken to secure both the paintings and the rooms themselves. Each painting is alarmed directly to the police and covered with protective glass to protect against all kinds of sticky fingers. When Ms. Larsson notes that ‘the paintings are as safe here as anywhere else’: with around the clock surveillance and reinforced night guards, the art as well as the guests can rest safely.

New art gallery completed in 2012
The hotel maintains good relations with the national police force and would be contacted directly if there were any rumours about an art-coup taking place in the area, allowing Ms Larsson to reinforce her security measures. The hotel works with its collections in various ways, including holding conferences in the art gallery and hosting art talks with speakers from the Zorn Museum. They are mentioned in local guidebooks -- even pre-school classes come to draw in the gallery.

This magnificent collection manages to straddle both the definition of public and private collection. Despite being a privately owned assembly of works, it remains accessible to the public. Over a glass of wine in the evening or a cup of coffee at breakfast, the visitors to Jula Hotel can enjoy art in the same way as a private collector but for the price of the beverage in hand.

The phenomenon of art in hotels takes on various forms, from being a tool of barter in Les Templiers in Collioure, France, to a cheap Van Gogh print in a forgettable place in New York. Most interestingly the practice of housing private collections in hotels could possibly negate the criticism of the private collection as elitist, as the paintings might even prove more accessible than in a museum, and might in actual fact convey art to a new kind of audience, that normally would not put their foot in a museum.

Even as I struggle to stay awake, solving my last Sudoku for the evening, my eye is caught by the nudes walking down towards the lakeside in Zorn’s 1912 masterpiece Skrämda. The very painting that Ms Larsson confessed to be her favourite, and which she would take if she would have her pick in the collection.

A.M.C. Knutsson earned a Master of Arts in General History from the University of St. Andrews and completed ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage in 2013.