Community Archaeology Conference

Via the Portable Antiquities Scheme Blog, I noticed there is an upcoming community archaeology conference in early 2009:

Community Archaeology in South West England
Free Conference held at Exeter University on the 21st of February 2009.

For abstract submissions and registration please see their website or contact Faye Simpson at fs216@exeter.ac.uk.

The South West of England has a plethora of innovative community archaeology projects working within the region to provide archaeological outreach to local communities. These archaeological outreach and education projects are varied in both there approaches and organisation. They range from ‘grass roots’ projects initiated and organised by interested amateurs, individuals and local societies, to ‘top down approaches’ by commercial archaeology firms and universities. Furthermore, they include a range of hands on activities such as standing building surveys, historical research, field-walking, oral history projects, excavations and finds processing, to name just a few.

As hosts, the Heritage Lottery Fund and University of Exeter’s Exploring Archaeology Project (XArch), provides the means in which the conference can act as a forum to discuss the variety of community initiatives in the South West of England, and assess how they work in practice. It will also open up communication between these different individuals, groups and organisations as to where the future lies for community archaeology in this region, and investigate the possibility of partnerships between these groups and projects.

Abstracts for papers should be no longer the 200 words in length and should be received by the 30.09.08.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Estate Recovers Three Works Stolen 30 years Ago (UPDATE)

The Worcester Telegram and Gazette reported yesterday that three works stolen more than 30 years ago will be returned to the original owner’s estate according to a Federal District Court ruling in Rhode Island. Recovered were The Shore of Lake Geneva by French painter Gustave Courbet, Lady as Shepherdess by William Hamilton and In the Sun by American impressionist Childe Hassam:
The paintings were stolen by three armed, masked men the night of July 1 into early July 2, 1976, from the home of Mae Persky, 520 Grafton St. The three men cut the telephone wires to the home, bound Ms. Persky, her nurse companion and caretaker and ransacked the home. They stole the paintings, furs and other valuables. The roughly two-hour robbery ended with one of the robbers stating, “Give us an hour to get away or we’ll come back and burn the …. place to the ground,” according to the police report. The paintings had been purchased in 1945 by Mrs. Persky’s husband, Abraham Persky. The insurance company for the Persky estate paid $45,000 on the policy for the three paintings. OneBeacon Insurance Co. is the “successor-in-interest” to the insurance company at the time of the robbery, Commercial Union Assurance. Mrs. Persky, whose husband was the former president of the Worcester Knitting Co., left the paintings to Ms. Yoffie and her husband, William Yoffie, in her will. he died Aug. 21, 1979. She was 86 at the time of the robbery, according to news reports. Mr. Yoffie was president of Worcester Knitting Co. and a trustee of the Abraham S. Persky Charitable Trust. He left the interest in the paintings to his wife when he died April 2007. For years, the paintings remained missing. They resurfaced last year when Patrick Conley went to have them authenticated by a Newport, R.I., art dealer. Mr. Conley had received the three paintings from his brother William Conley as collateral for $22,000 in loans in 1998 and 1999. Because William Conley never repaid his brother, Patrick Conley kept the paintings as part of their written loan agreement. It is unclear how antiques dealer William Conley obtained the paintings. When the paintings were determined to be stolen, the FBI took custody of them and the legal battle began. In previous interviews, Patrick Conley said he had no idea the paintings were stolen.

I haven’t been able to track down the judgment yet, so I can’t comment on the legal issues involved. I can say with some certainty that this is a classic stolen art dispute between an original owner (or her successor in interest) and a subsequent purchaser or acquirer who purports to be in good faith. This is a dispute between two relatively innocent parties, and jurisdictions have very different handling of this kind of situation — not so much in the US or the UK, but in civilian systems like Iitaly or Switzerland purchasers can acquire good title to these stolen works.

UPDATE:

Donn Zaretsky notes that this was seemingly not a judgment but rather the court signed off on a settlement agreement among the parties, ending the dispute, which has not been made public. He wants to know “what did the insurance company get in return?”

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Protection, Preservation and Commodification

Italy has been making tremendous strides of late in securing the return of objects. A major tenet underlying these successful repatriation claims has been the idea that by cutting off buyers of illicitly excavated objects, and by ensuring objects are not entering major museum collections, the demand for the illicit trade will be substantially reduced.

This is an important policy shift, and has unquestionably altered the cultural property policy landscape. However I think its worth asking if nations like Italy are following through with their aspirations, and if everything is being done to preserve sites and archaeological context. It stands to reason that more nations of origin will be adopting this Italian strategy, but we should ask ourselves if perhaps these efforts are looking at only one part of the problem.

In fact as I tried to point out last week, it looks like more nations of origin will be banding together and attempting perhaps to negotiate as a bloc, in much the same way that OPEC has dominated the world’s supply of oil. TIME Magazine’s Richard Lacayo in his “Looking Around” blog responded to my assertion by rightly pointing out that “OPEC is powerful because it sits on top of a natural resource that, at the end of the day, the world requires. Antiquities source nations have…..antiquities.”

He’s right of course that there isn’t nearly the same demand for antiquities as for a commodity like oil, but nations of origin do need market states in a number of ways which aren’t often fully appreciated. Italy, though it was very forceful in its recent negotiations with the Getty, the Met, and the MFA Boston chose not to use all of the legal ammunition it perhaps could have, and even reached very generous reciprocal loan agreements in exchange for the repatriated objects. The obvious question is: why be so accommodating if there were such powerful ethical principles and photographic evidence which called for the return of these objects?

The answer I think is that these nations need good relationships with other nations, and one of the major reasons is the enormous tourist dollars visitors from America (and elsewhere) can bring to these nations. Capitalizing on this tourism can have a heavy price however.
Adam L. Freeman has an excellent article on Bloomberg in which he details the struggle Italian authorities have had in properly caring for Pompeii (pictured above), “Chunks of frescoes depicting life in the Roman city are missing, carried away by visitors or eroded by the elements. Graffiti is gouged into walls. Tourists ignore signs forbidding flash photography as they take pictures of erotic designs inside the Lupanare, an ancient brothel.” This all comes as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attempts to cut expenditures, with the Culture Ministry likely to receive heavy cuts after the former government cut protection by 20 percent this year already. In fact, Italy has declared a state of emeregency for the ancient city and appointed Renato Profili former head policeman for Naples to oversee the situation.
Profili is quoted “It’s obvious that there is an emergency in a country like Italy where there’s so much to protect and so little money to do it.” This despite the 33 million euros generated by all the tourists who visit the city.

Other nations are having similar struggles. Robert Turnbull a few weeks ago in the New York Times details a museum/retail mall development in Cambodia near Angkor Wat, pictured here.

There aren’t easy answers of course, but merely returning objects to nations of origins won’t by itself protect sites, heritage and context.

The valuable tourist dollars which these sites bring in can help alleviate the situation, but it also carries with it the distasteful tradeoffs, such as the commodification of heritage, and the wear-and-tear which millions of visitors will always cause. Hopefully nations of origin will be able to move beyond the dramatic repatriations, which are a necessary step, and continue to work to preserve the sites themselves.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Art Theft and Recovery Blotter

There’s a slew of news about art theft, recovery and sentencing this morning:

First, thieves broke into a museum near Stockholm and stole five works by Andy Warhol (Mickey Mouse, and Superman) and Roy Lichtenstein (Crak, Sweet Dreams, Baby!, and Dagwood).

Second, authorities in Brazil have recovered a Picasso print, The Painter and the Model, which was stolen along with four other works back in June from the Pinacoteca do Estado in São Paulo, Brazil. Police had the men under surveillance for a planned ATM robbery, and overheard mention of the Picasso.

Third, a Vermont man has been ordered to serve a five-to-20 year prison sentence for stealing bronze sculptures to sell as scrap metal. He and two other men had stolen a number of sculptures from Joel Fisher’s studio while the artist was out of the country.

Finally, Artinfo is reporting that the Art Loss Register has recovered a Mario Carro work stolen from a New York law firm in 1993.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

An OPEC for Nations of Origin? (LATE UPDATE)

OPEC is the organization of oil-producing countries which regulates their production, price, etc. A number of people have suggested that perhaps a similar movement should be adopted among nations of origin for antiquities loans, repatriations, and perhaps even licit sales. It would seem to be a terrific strategy for these nations to combine their efforts, so long as they can agree upon similar strategies. A few items in the news and among other blogs point to the emergence of such a collaboration.
First, Italy and Greece have continued their cooperation. The Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis and Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister for Culture have signed a memorandum of cooperation on cultural issues. As part of the agreement, the Nostoi exhibition will travel to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens in September, and there will likely be more pressure on institutions and private collectors to return objects, as David Gill recently noted with the news that Shelby White will return objects to Greece.

This news comes as Egypt continued its recent efforts and signed yet another agreement, this time with Ecuador. Egypt has already signed agreements with Italy, Cyprus, Denmark, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Peru and Switzerland according to the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram.

I think we can take a couple of lessons from these efforts. First, it is another indication that UNESCO has had a difficult time building consensus, and the spread of these bilateral agreements is a sign the UNESCO Convention itself does very little if a signatory does not want to give much teeth to its accession.

Second, these repatriations and cooperation may be a very good thing, however the real test of these efforts remains how well sites are protected, and whether there remains a workable heritage management policy in these nations. Recent news out of Greece suggests they are not. It seems last month the Greek parliament has taken a step last month to allow divers to access the entirety of the Greek coastline. This would be very good for tourism, but how are the objects these divers find going to be managed or educated? How will sites be affected?


Pictured here of course is the Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth, a statue found by chance in the Adriatic in the 1960s. How many more of these objects will be uncovered if the Greek coast is opened up to divers? I know very little about how the Greek waters are currently protected, but it would seem to me to be a poor policy which only criticizes foreign institutions and buyers while not properly protecting domestic objects and sites before they are exported.

LATE UPDATE:

David Gill has kindly noted in the comments, and on his blog that the report I noted above is out-of-date and most likely inaccurate. It seems Greece is not, of course, thinking about opening its coast to amateur underwater salvors. However, I think the underlying question I raised is still valid in Greece and elsewhere: what can and should be done about underwater sites and wrecks

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

French Man Pleads Guilty to Art Theft Conspiracy

Last week the US Department of Justice issued a press release announcing a Frenchman named Bernard Jean Ternus pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell four works of art stolen last August from the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nice, France.

According to the release, Ternus and another man attempted to sell two of the works to undercover agents in Barcelona, Spain for three million euros. They sold two works, and attempted to keep the other two as leverage in case they got arrested. This plan revealed its flaws in June though when Ternus’ co-conspirators were arrested in Southern France when they attempted to exchange the final two works.

Ternus was arrested by FBI and ICE agents in Florida, and its likely a condition of his plea agreement was to give testimony about the thefts themselves, which should aid French authorities in their prosecution of the co-conspirators in Europe.

The arrests are a very good thing, but it will be interesting to see what Ternus’ and his conspirators prison sentances will be, as art theft is typically not given long prison terms. Though the armed nature of the robbery may lead to harsher penalties for the actual thieves in Europe.

This is nonetheless a very good example of cooperation of Federal Agents and prosecutors, and their French and Spanish counterparts. Its a job very well done, and an indication why theft of these kind of high-profile works is very silly. I’ve included images of the recovered works from the press release below:

Cliffs Near Dieppe, 1897
Permanent loan, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nice; © Musée d’Orsay, Paris Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Cliffs Near Dieppe, 1897. Oil on canvas. 65 x 100 cm (25 9/16 x 39 3/8 in.).
Allegory of Earth, ca. 1611
© Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nice Jan Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, 1568-1625) and Hendrik van Balen the Elder (Flemish, 1575-1632). Allegory of Earth, ca. 1611. Oil on panel. 53 x 94 cm
Allegory of Water, ca. 1611
©Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nice Jan Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, 1568-1625) and Hendrik van Balen the Elder (Flemish, 1575-1632). Allegory of Water, ca. 1611. Oil on panel. 53 x 94 cm
The Lane of Poplars at Moret, 1890
Permanent loan, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nice; © Musée d’Orsay, Paris Alfred Sisley (French and British, 1839-1899). The Lane of Poplars at Moret, 1890. Oil on canvas. 76 x 96 cm (29 15/16 x 37 13/16 in.). (20 7/8 x 3)
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com