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Old 03-24-2005, 01:45 AM   #1
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Post Indian center is missing artifacts

The paintings, prints and artifacts represent "a considerable loss" to the Mid-America All-Indian Center, a city official says.

BY DION LEFLER

The Wichita Eagle


More than 270 American Indian works of art and artifacts are missing from the financially beleaguered Mid-America All-Indian Center, Wichita officials said Monday.

John D'Angelo, director of the city's division of arts and cultural services, said his office has notified police that items acquired by the museum are gone and will file a full police report this week.

"There's a significant portion of the collection missing," D'Angelo said.

Among the missing pieces are nationally acclaimed artworks, including Blackbear Bosin's "Sioux Horse Dance" and Jerome Tiger's "Hunter in the Snow," said Charla Sanderson, assistant director of CityArts, who conducted the inventory of the Indian Center's collection.

"The loss would be considerable in monetary value," said Jerry Martin, director of the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology at Wichita State University, who assisted in the inventory.

Overall, the Indian Center appears to have lost 94 paintings and prints, 80 pottery pieces, 32 pieces of jewelry, 27 clothing items and artifacts, 21 baskets and 19 rugs, Sanderson said.

She said she compiled the list by comparing acquisition records dating back to 1976 against the actual contents of the center's collection.

Newman Washington, acting chairman of the Indian Center board, said the loss is "a major impact" for American Indians.

"You're talking about losing part of your history down there," Washington said.

The Indian Center has been run by a private board with financial support from the city for utilities and maintenance costs.

City officials took a more direct role in managing it in late December, amid revelations that the operation was $135,000 in debt and failing to pay vendors and taxes.

In February, the City Council agreed to float the center a $175,000 loan, with nonsacred items from the museum collection pledged as collateral.

D'Angelo said it is not known how long the missing items have been gone from the museum.

He said the disappearances occurred before the beginning of this year, when city officials closed the museum, re-keyed the locks and secured the property.

"No artwork has left the building since we've been here," D'Angelo said.

The museum has remained shuttered, although the city is honoring pre-existing contracts for use of the center's community room, officials said.

In addition to the likelihood of theft, it is possible that some of the items may have been sold or traded to other institutions, D'Angelo said.

"The records were in very much disarray," he said.

Mayor Carlos Mayans said the results of the inventory argue for an ongoing city role in running the museum.

"This is exactly the type of oversight that needed to take place," he said. "I'm just glad that we have a catalogue of whatever is there."

Martin, the WSU museum official, said the missing pieces' impact the community and the credibility of all museums is where the loss will be felt most.

"It's very, very tragic," said Martin, who was museum director at the Indian Center from 1991 to 1999. "You give a family heirloom or treasure to a museum, you expect it to stay in that museum.... When that trust is broken, it hurts everyone.

"This kind of lack of oversight is very unusual for this type of museum," he added. "To me, someone has to be held accountable for it."

The center's interim director and financial officer, Cecilia White, resigned in October, about three weeks after filing a police report saying $5,000 in cash and an unknown amount of computer equipment had been stolen. White has said she was unaware of any problems with the center when she resigned.
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Old 03-24-2005, 01:49 AM   #2
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Our legacy plundered

Blackbear Bosin's daughters can't believe his works have vanished

BY DION LEFLER

The Wichita Eagle


The daughters of renowned American Indian artist Blackbear Bosin were saddened Tuesday when they learned that artworks by their father have disappeared from Wichita's Mid-America All-Indian Center.

"You're kidding," said Patricia Twins of Clinton, Okla., after an Eagle reporter informed her that several of her father's original paintings and prints had vanished from the Indian Center museum.

"It's just terrible," she said. "Why do things like that happen? I thought for sure it was safe there at the museum."

City officials confirmed Monday that more than 270 works of art and artifacts are missing from the Indian Center.

The city has asked police to investigate the disappearance as a probable theft, although there is a possibility some of the items may have been sold or traded to other institutions.

The museum is housed in a city-owned building, and the city pays for utilities and maintenance. But the center had been administered by a private board and staff.

City arts officials took control in December amid revelations that the center was $135,000 in debt. Those officials conducted an inventory that identified the missing items.

In addition to paintings and prints, the missing items include handmade rugs, pottery, jewelry, clothing and other items.

The loss of items from the Bosin collection is especially hard because of his longstanding ties to Wichita and his national reputation as a leading American Indian artist of his generation.

Another of his daughters, Rowena Coley of Oklahoma City, said she was saddened but not particularly surprised at the disappearance of the artwork.

"I know that there are a lot of fraudulent things going on," she said. "It's always going on, ever since my dad died -- people copying his artwork, saying they're his nephew or his niece, just different things.

"I don't even know how many people I have heard of making prints. Everything that could be done has been done, for monetary reasons. I really think it is a shame."

John D'Angelo, arts director for the city, said the museum was in major disarray when he and his staff took control in December. Valuable artwork was unsecured and records were scattered around the office, he said.

City officials closed the facility so they could clean up and inventory the contents.

There are big gaps in the facility's books. And no one ever made a photographic record of the collection, one of the first and most basic steps in running a museum, said Charla Sanderson, assistant director of CityArts, who conducted the inventory.

In addition to missing items, Sanderson said she found items that the museum has no record of receiving.

City officials are not releasing a full inventory of the missing items to avoid interfering with the police investigation, D'Angelo said.

And while key pieces are gone, the center still has a substantial collection, he added.

The center's museum space has been nearly stripped to the walls. Workers from the city are redesigning and rebuilding the exhibit area.

D'Angelo said April 5 is the target date to get community areas of the building reopened. By May 7, he hopes to have the museum open three days a week.

City officials will be in charge until the board, which will have city representation, can hire a new permanent staff, he said. The city loaned the center $175,000 to aid in its recovery.

Former Wichita City Council member Bill Gale, now the county's election commissioner, said he feels "loss, bewilderment and disappointment" that the center has fallen as hard as it has.

Gale, who is one-eighth Cherokee, was financial officer for the Indian Center from May to November 2003.

He said the facility was about $40,000 in debt when he arrived. But spending cuts pared the amount owed down to just a few thousand by the time he left, he said.

But in the last 16 months, the center's debt ballooned to $135,000.

"We were thinking, 'Wow!' when it was $40,000," Gale said. "We thought that was a lot."

Gale said he has followed the developing news of financial problems at the center, but didn't learn of the disappearance of museum items until reading about it in Tuesday's Eagle.

"It wasn't even a year and a half since I left," he said. "It made me wonder what was going on since I left there. I imagine I'd be pretty frustrated if I went and looked."

But probably not as frustrated as Twins, Bosin's daughter.

She said the disappearance of the Bosin artwork was especially troubling because her father, who died in 1980, was one of the founders of the Indian Center. He saw his donations as part of a personal legacy to the community.

"He did so much for them; he got it started," she said. "He was always there for them, trying to help the people. If he was still here, they'd be stealing from him."

The loss of items from the Bosin collection is especially hard because of his longstanding ties to Wichita and his national reputation as a leading American Indian artist of his generation.
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