May 21, 2003
- Parthenon: Museum project ‘to go ahead’
- Thieves net rare abalone scrimshaw collection; unique carvings stolen from Pt. Lobos museum
- The book bandit (more on Peter Bellwood, with photo)
- Provenance issues and World War II Looted Art: The 7th Inter national Law Seminar "Resolution of Cultural Property Disputes"
- How stolen and damaged Van Gogh was saved
- UN Agency Alarmed at Iraqi Sites Plunder
- Harness world's outrage to recover Iraq's stolen past
- UNESCO affirms loss of 1,000 archeological pieces from Baghdad museum
Museum project ‘to go ahead’
While vowing to comply with any court decision on the legitimacy of the New Acropolis Museum project, the government yesterday said it would also do all it could to proceed with the building which Athens has inextricably linked to its bid to wrest back the British Museum’s Elgin Collection of Parthenon sculptures.
On Saturday, Council of State sources said the supreme administrative court has rejected as illegal initial plans for the 94-million-euro glass and concrete structure the government has undertaken to erect in Makriyianni, on the southeastern fringes of the Acropolis. The court reportedly found that the plans allowed for significant antiquities to be destroyed without Culture Ministry approval. The decision will be published in a few weeks. The project is already 11 months behind schedule.
Yesterday, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said once the ruling is published, “all fitting action will be taken to ensure that respect is shown for law and order and that the [museum] is built.” He criticized the leak to the press as “a heavy blow to the prestige of [Greek justice].”
Thieves net rare abalone scrimshaw collection
Unique carvings stolen from Pt. Lobos museum
Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Art thieves who broke into a Monterey peninsula museum made off with a collection of 48 irreplaceable abalone scrimshaw carvings, one of California's most unusual and rare historical artifacts.
The collection was taken in the middle of the night last week from a museum at the Pt. Lobos state reserve near Carmel. The scrimshaw art by Charles Durgin, a New England whaler and artisan who settled in California in the 1870s, was the highlight of the Whaler's Cabin Museum at Pt. Lobos. The thieves apparently were sophisticated and knew exactly what they wanted, said Kurt Loesch, a historian at the museum.
None of the other exhibits was damaged, and nothing else was taken, the state park said. According to park Ranger Dave Schaechtele, the carvings were taken sometime on the night of May 12. He declined to place a value on the scrimshaw, but experts in the field described the carvings as unique and irreplaceable.
Tom Fordham of Pacific Grove, an authority on West Coast maritime history, said Durgin was an expert scrimshander and the Pt. Lobos collection is "invaluable."
"There is nothing like it in the world," Fordham said. Scrimshaw is a folk art that developed in the 19th century during the heyday of deepwater whaling when crews of whaling vessels would make intricate carvings on whalebone, walrus tusks and other material. Scrimshaw is highly prized and many museums, including the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Mystic (Conn.) Seaport museum and the New Bedford (Mass.) Whaling Museum, have extensive collections.
What makes Durgin's work unusual is that he carved it on red and black abalone shells, which is a difficult medium. Durgin carved intricate floral designs on the abalone shells, and the result, Loesch said, was "very beautiful and dramatic." Durgin, who was trained as a cabinetmaker and woodcarver in Maine, sailed on two whaling voyages in the Atlantic and Antarctic waters and produced a number of pieces of conventional scrimshaw. He left the sea sometime in the 1870s and settled in San Jose, where he earned his living as a cabinetmaker and woodcarver. However, he still felt the pull of the sea and began to do scrimshaw in abalone shells. In the late 19th century, abalone were found in huge numbers on the central coast, especially in the ocean near the Monterey peninsula. Durgin's works in abalone were described as "completely unique" by Stuart Frank at the New Bedford Whaling museum. The Kendall Museum, a unit of the larger New Bedford museum, has seven pieces of Durgin's work. The 48 pieces, given to the state of California by an anonymous donor in 1993, represent the largest single collection of Durgin's work. Even the scene of the crime is unique. The Whaler's Cabin Museum, part of the Pt. Lobos State Reserve, was originally built by Chinese fishermen 140 years ago and is one of the oldest original wooden buildings in the state. The redwood and pine cabin was occupied as a residence until 1983, when the state took it over. When archaeologists dug up the cabin's floor, they found whale bones holding up the floor joists and evidence that it had been used by Chinese fishermen, then by Japanese who specialized in abalone, and was part of a thriving scene at Whaler's Cove. The cove is one of 16 California sites where whales were caught by crews -- mostly Portuguese immigrants -- working in small boats from the shore. The cove also housed at various times a cannery, some dairies, a gravel and stone quarry, and even a coal mine. "It is one of the first industrial sites in California," Loesch said.
PRIZED FOR JEWELRY
Abalone is not only delicious to eat, but the shells of the creatures have been prized for jewelry for centuries. The native Ohlone of the Monterey peninsula used abalone shells for decoration, and abalone jewelry is frequently sold in stores and on the Internet. The theft is the first in the history of the Pt. Lobos Preserve, generally regarded as one of the crown jewels of the state park system. "It is a very disturbing situation," said Loesch. "It is devastating," said Schaechtele.
Anyone with information on the missing scrimshaw is asked to call
supervising ranger Dave Dixon at (831) 384-6932.
E-mail Carl Nolte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book bandit
BY LOUISE MALE
THIS is the face of one of Scotland Yard's most wanted – who is thought to be responsible for a string of thefts from libraries and museums across Europe.
Peter Bellwood from Swillington, near Leeds, once convicted of stealing rare prints from Leeds Central Library, is wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of rare and highly valuable maps and illustrations from Copenhagen's Royal Library and the National Library of Wales.
The Metropolitan Police are co-ordinating the hunt for Bellwood after Danish authorities said they wanted to extradite him after the theft of eight maps dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Circulation of CCTV pictures from Copenhagen on the internet alerted the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth. Maps worth several thousand pounds were stolen from there by a similar-looking man. Bellwood, was jailed for four years in 1996 after stealing hundreds of valuable plates and illustrations cut from books from 12 British libraries. They were valued at up to £289,000.
Bellwood claimed he was addicted to stealing illustrations from rare antique books and had not made a great deal from selling them. Among the volumes were turn-of-the-last-century Vanity Fair magazines taken from Birmingham Central Library and antique sporting books including a rare copy of The Empire's Cricketers by AC Taylor from which Bellwood took 37 prints while at Leeds Central Library. Although Bellwood claimed financial gain was not his motivation, the prosecution alleged he made £37,000 from the thefts. Speaking before his sentencing in an earlier court case, he claimed: "It was addictive, like a drug. You see them in the book and one minute you're looking at them, then you want to possess them." He is believed to be living abroad and is divorced. A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said: "His modus operandi is to visit the libraries and cut out prints and maps from rare antique books dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. "These rare pieces of history belonging to some of Europe's oldest establishments are left permanently destroyed but the maps stolen can be sold for between £500 and £10,000 to markets across the world. It is estimated that 4,500 maps of this type are missing from libraries across Europe."
Anyone who knows Bellwood's whereabouts should contact a special Scotland Yard hotline – 0207 233 4128 – or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. email@example.com
From: David Brancaleone firstname.lastname@example.org
To: "'email@example.com'" firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: RE: Provenance issues and World War II Looted Art: The 7th Inter national Law Seminar "Resolution of Cultural Property Disputes" Date sent: Tue, 20 May 2003 14:12:02 +0100
7th International Law Seminar "Resolution of Cultural Property Disputes" Permanent Court of Arbitration, Peace Palace, The Hague, The Netherlands, 23 May 2003
This conference aims to address the problems of limited national and international legislation to aid the resolution of cultural property disputes. It will deal with historical claims to cultural patrimony and illegally exported archaelogical artefacts. Recently two new developments have impacted on the art world: the creation of registers of stolen art and of commissions and working groups devoted to restitution of World War II looted art. The registers of stolen art are providing the art world with much needed provenance information when it is made available to them while commissions and working groups are actively involved in claims. The one-day seminar includes speakers such as Nancy Yeide author of the AAM Guide to Provenance research and Head of Department of Curatorial Records, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Lucian Simmons of Sotheby's, Lyndel Prott, former Director of UNESCO Division of Cultural Heritage, Constance Lowenthal former Director of the Commission for Art Recovery, the star researcher Konstantin Akinsha (who was Deputy Research Director of the US Presidential Commission on Holocaust Era Assets), Professor Norman Palmer Chairman of the Treasure Valuation Committee (formerly Treasure Trove Reviewing Committee) (member from 1996), Chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects (since 2000), Chairman of the Working Group on Human Remains in Museum Collections (since 2001), Director of ArtResolve since 2001, Member of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, and Principal Academic Adviser, Institute of Art and Law (from 1995) -- in addition to being Professor of Commercial Law at University College London!
The Seminar will focus on Provenance, World War II Looted Art, Legal Issues associated with Restitution and Dispute Settlement Mechanisms relating to Cultural Property.
Permanent Court of Arbitration
2517 KJ The Hague The Netherlands
Fax: + 31 (0) 70 302 41 67
I would be grateful if attendees could forward their papers to me by email after the conference to enable me to produce a report for our website (lootedart.com).
David Brancaleone MA (UCL) PhD (Warburg)
Director of Research and Deputy Director
of The Central Registry of Information
on Looted Cultural Property (1933-1945)
How damaged Van Gogh was saved
THE two weeks Nicola Walker spent walking in Van Gogh's footsteps were among the most nerve wracking in her life.
Whitworth Art Gallery's paper conservator felt the full glare of the public spotlight when she was left to pick up the pieces after a £4m art theft. But she called on 20 years' experience and a technique dating back thousands of years to painstakingly restore Van Gogh's Fortifications of Paris with Houses. The 116-year-old watercolour suffered a 15cm tear and was badly creased when it was packed into a cardboard tube along with Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape before being dumped outside a public toilet and damaged by rain. Now visitors to Manchester's Oxford Road gallery are being challenged to spot the join. Nicola had to re-border the Picasso and the Gauguin with very high quality cotton fibre inlay paper, but her biggest challenge was the badly damaged Van Gogh. She said: "It was not the most difficult thing I have done but I felt I was under the spotlight. I knew when I carried out the repairs they would be closely scrutinised."
To remove the large creases she placed the Van Gogh in a humidification chamber, which allowed moisture into the painting. It was then placed in the iron press for several days. Then, over three days, Nicola began fixing the tear, working on a centimetre at a time, using a specialist Japanese tissue called Tengujo. Nicola, 43, from Stockport, said: "It was a fairly traditional method based on a Japanese technique which dates back thousands of years." After re-bordering the work she then spent the next four days toning in tiny pieces of Van Gogh's skyline using a small brush to tone down dark lines that had appeared as a result of creasing. Some of the pigment of the blue paint on the original had also fallen off.
Nicola, who studied her profession during a two-year course at the University of Northumbria after completing a degree in English and Art History, joined the gallery nearly 10 years ago. She is pleased with her work but said: "There are bits that I do think are perfect."
The police investigation into the theft continues.
UN Agency Alarmed at Iraqi Sites Plunder
Monday May 19, 2003 9:49 PM
UN agency alarmed at Iraqi sites plunder UN cultural agency sounds archaeological alarm over the plunder of treasure sites in Iraq
By HAMZA HENDAWI
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The United Nations cultural agency sounded an archaeological alarm Monday, saying the ground beneath Iraq is being stripped of its treasures by armies of illegal diggers and exhorting U.S.-led occupying forces to help stop the thievery.
The plundering has been going on since the 1991 Gulf War but has increased in the chaos and anarchy that followed the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, UNESCO said. Experts sent by UNESCO to gauge the damage to Iraq's heritage in the wake of last month's widespread looting said Monday that organized gangs were behind the digs - and that their finds were being systematically taken out of the country to be sold. ``The great majority of Iraqi sites are in great danger,'' warned McGuire Gibson, a University of Chicago archaeologist who has been involved in Iraqi excavations since the early 1960s. He said the plundering of Iraq's hundreds of archaeological sites began much earlier than the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, which drew international attention in the hours and days after the capture of Baghdad by U.S. forces last month. ``Iraq has undergone massive and organized looting at an incredible scale,'' Gibson said. Thousands of items have since gone out the country every month and found their way into the international antiquities market, he said.
UNESCO said the looting has picked up since the U.S.-led war on Iraq began March 20 and that plunderers are thought to have started some digs as recently as early May. ``I have seen with my own eyes new digging on sites that were never touched before,'' Gibson said. He singled out Nippur, the religious center of Sumerian and Mesopotamian civilization. The city in southern Iraq flourished for more than 5,000 years, surviving the rise and fall of empires until A.D. 800, when the city was abandoned. It is now a desolate desert mound. Gibson also mentioned the nearby site of Isin, where German archaeologists have worked for years; Larsa, in the south; and sites in Diala province, northeast of Baghdad. ``We know of many more sites, mostly in the south and isolated areas, that are being systematically looted by 80 men, 100 men, and 300 men per day and the material is going out of the country at an increasing rate,'' Gibson said at a news conference. Several important archaeological sites, including those in Nimrud and Kish, are being protected by U.S.-led coalition forces, he said. Mounir Bouchnaki, assistant director-general of Paris-Based UNESCO, said the experts he led on his current visit to Iraq found that Baghdad's heritage sites remained unsecured. He speculated that it is worse outside the capital.
``We insist that British authorities in the south and American authorities in the rest of the country put more security, more forces, in archaeological sites and cultural institutions,'' Bouchnaki said. He said the experts would submit a report to UNESCO's director-general, Koichiro Matsuura of Japan, by the end of this week on Iraq's heritage. U.S.-led forces say they are doing their best to make sure Iraq doesn't lose its irreplaceable antiquities and have focused efforts on cataloguing and retrieving items from the Iraqi National Museum. Gibson and his fellow team member, John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, agreed that the damage done to the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad was not as bad as initially thought. But they gave different assessments of the magnitude of the actual loss. ``The losses are not as great as we thought they would be,'' Gibson said. ``It's not a catastrophe, but it's still very, very serious.''
Russell was more gloomy.
``It's only by comparison with the most dire initial reports that said everything was gone that it seems not so bad,'' he said. ``Yes, not everything is gone, but major things are.'' American investigators say thousands of antiquities missing from the Iraq museum have been found but not returned because Iraqi citizens won't hand them over to U.S. forces or remnants of the Saddam regime. The U.S. investigation, according to its head, U.S. Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, has recovered 951 stolen items. Some were recovered under a no-questions-asked amnesty program for those returning items, while others were found in raids. Items returned so far include an inscribed cornerstone from King Nebuchadnezzar's 7th-century B.C. Babylon palace. Others - including a golden harp from the ancient Sumerian city of Ur - were found among the museum debris. The harp was in pieces, Bogdanos said, but can be restored.
Harness world's outrage to recover Iraq's stolen past
A New York exhibition of breathtaking treasures from the ancient land of Mesopotamia -- today's Iraq -- provides a counterpoint to a poignant tragedy. The statues, jewelry and early cuneiform writings on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Aug. 17 showcase rare pieces like those plundered during Saddam Hussein 's regime and the Iraq war.
Yet worldwide outrage over the failure of U.S. troops to prevent looters from ransacking the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad last month, while justified, misses a deeper problem. Since the 1991 Gulf War , Iraq has become a Raiders of the Lost Ark treasure trove for art thieves. Saddam's government reduced security for Iraq's wealth of museums and archaeological sites, blaming United Nations sanctions. That allowed more artifacts to move onto a lucrative and fastgrowing black market. Interpol, the international police network linking 181 countries, says the more than 20,000 stolen works from countries around the world in its database are far short of the actual number.
The U.S. now is taking appropriate steps to recover Baghdad museum artifacts dating back several millennia, particularly valuable treasures it suspects were lifted by an organized international art-theft ring during the confusion surrounding the fall of Baghdad. The U.S. has named an American official to oversee the recovery effort and has offered rewards for the return of stolen objects, which likely number in the thousands, according to art expert McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago. Still, even a new $2 million U.S. fund to support the effort only begins to address the wider looting of other Iraqi museums and archaeological sites during the past 12 years. With the spotlight on the plunder of art treasures dimming, the challenge for the U.S. is to stay focused on recovering what has been stolen and preventing new thefts. Restoring civil order and basic needs such as electricity are understandably top priorities in Iraq. But the U.S. can obtain help reclaiming the nation's cultural underpinnings. Foreign and Iraqi art experts are eager to assist in putting the pieces of lost national pride back together. The best model would be a broad international Iraqi heritage management team, much like the structure envisioned for Iraq's other treasure, its oil.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO ) has done important groundwork. Teaming up with the British Museum and art experts around the world, UNESCO has been assessing Iraq's losses and helping create an Interpol register of missing pieces. U.S. backing can give the U.N. organization the needed clout to take tough steps to recover them, such as enforcing international laws that prevent antiquities from being removed from their countries of origin. Indeed, UNESCO could be a prime example of the ''vital role'' President Bush promised the U.N. will play in reconstructing Iraq. The job is a big one, given that the country has thousands of archaeological sites -- including the ancient ruins of Babylon -- with as little as 15% excavated. But delays in setting up an effective recovery plan encourage more plunder. Since the Iraq war ended, even children have been peddling ancient artifacts on street corners. An all-out U.S. and international effort to preserve a rich history would help Iraqis reclaim their cultural heritage. Like the treasures now on display in New York, that effort would be priceless.
UNESCO affirms loss of 1,000 archeological pieces from Baghdad museum LISBON, 05/20 - About 1,000 archeological pieces were stolen from the National Museum of Baghdad during the US-led war to Iraq, less than 60,000 as originally supposed, said Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Koichiro Matsuura on Monday.
During an official visit to Portugal, Matsuura pointed out that the "number of missing objects is far inferior" to previous figures. He said that UN experts working in Baghdad reported to the UNESCO that many of the missing pieces "are in a safe place." The UN specialized agency sent four experts last Saturday, who are from the United States, Japan and Britain, to Baghdad on a three-day mission to assess the loss of Iraqi archeological wealth. During days after the US capture of the Iraqi capital on April 9, numerous antiques and artifacts were looted from the museums in Iraq and were supposedly being smuggled abroad. Matsuura met on Monday with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso. He also talked with Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio and Portugal`s Science and Higher Education Minister PedroLynce de Faria during his visit.