Tell a Tale of a Transit Totem

new york transit museumTransit artifacts can glimmer like icons (the token, a lit station globe) or provoke a sense of mystery and whimsy with their antiquated purpose (a Bend-o? a scleroscope?). Join our archives and collections staff as we bring objects and photographs from the Museum’s collection to life through writing, storytelling, and imaginative interpretation.

A sampling of artifacts and images are available online now – join us Wednesday, November 12th at 6:30pm to see these and many more in a pop-up exhibit designed to inspire your writing.

Create an exhibit label, poem, or short story; try your hand at the nuanced craft of lexicography; or show off your expertise by schooling us all in the true provenance of an object.

Fill the evening with a mixture of truth and fiction; we’re on the hunt for both the crafty and the credible!

Submit your pieces in advance or join us for a writing session and open mic on November 12th.
Wednesday, November 12th | 6:30pm | Free
New York Transit Museum
Downtown Brooklyn

View our first set of artifacts and RSVP here: transitTotem

Brett Dion

FAUX Real: News from Art and Craft

Hello Trekkers!

The discerning eye - Matt Leininger uncovering Landis

The discerning eye – Matt Leininger uncovering Landis in Art and Craft.

The Art Sleuth here greeting you on a cold Sunday morning in Cincinnati, Ohio. Art and Craft ( has been doing extremely well here in the US. Opening in new cities every Friday since September 19, Art and Craft comes to Cincinnati this Friday the 24th at the Mariemont Theatre. I will be doing a question and answer session after the 730pm screenings on October 24 and 25. If you cannot see the film in theaters, you can now pre-order Art and Craft at iTunes (

I also wanted to share this blog from the American Institute for Conservation ( A very well thought out piece from the blogger!

I will keep you posted on any new findings on Mark Augustus Landis as I am in my seventh year now tracking him.

As always, talk soon and keep on Trekking,


Matt is now also on Twitter, follow him @artsleuth2008

Birds in collections

One single bird can keep a registrar occupied for quite a while.(c) Hans Bleh

One single bird can keep a registrar occupied for quite a while.
(c) Hans Bleh

We talked about #registrardreams lately and I have a special one: I wish that only one time when my director shows up he finds me all dressed up in a clean working dress with a tidy desk and reporting “no serious incidents”. Alas, it never happened in the last 10 years. Whenever he meets me I’m for some reason or another all dirty with dust and/or machine oil and some colleagues swear that I once told him to hurry up because I had work to do. Be that as it may, I’m really glad he didn’t show up the other day when I was running up and down the storage, swinging a broom and shouting, all in the attempt to shoo a bird out of the hall. Not only did I behave like an idiot, I also looked like a contemporary artwork made out of spider webs, because the bird flew in the most distant corners that haven’t seen a broom in ages. Standing there looking up at the bird who constantly ignored the wide open gate I asked myself if I was the only collection manager on earth mocked by a bird and if I could do better.

Obviously, if you ask yourself the answers are limited, so I asked my colleagues from the RCAAM listserv. I received a whole bunch of enlightening hints and some fabulous stories about birds in collections. So, now I’m able to provide a step-by-step guide on how to handle birds in collections (if they are not dead and taxidermies, that is):

  1. Close all inside doors to the room the bird is in.
  2. Open all gates and windows that lead outside.
  3. Turn out the lights in the room, so the escapes appear lit for the bird.
  4. Clap hands, swing brooms, shout, behave like an idiot, do everything to shoo the bird towards the openings. The higher the open window/gate, the more likely the bird will get out.
  5. When the bird flies out, close all doors and windows.
  6. Search for holes that made it possible for the bird to come in and seal them (like Elizabeth Alberding put it: “Unless you can seal your building you are soon to be known as the “bird whisperer” of your museum.”)

Kara Vetter pointed out that there are sonic deterrence devices that can be installed near gates if that’s where they come in.

Anne T. Lane provided a true MacGyver story:

It's a good idea to inform the colleagues with a sign.

If you closed the door to a room because there is a bird inside it’s always a good idea to inform your colleagues

“We used to have this problem in a very open building in which I worked, where there was no way to close off between floors. They didn’t get into collections storage, but they could and did weaken and die in crevices around the windows high up on the mezzanine level. We caught one once by making a sort of fish landing net out of a wire hoop, a broom handle, and some light plastic sheeting. Oh, and blue tape. My registrar got up on a tall ladder under one of the rotundas and took wild swings at the bird – I was terrified that he’d swing himself right off the ladder onto the ceramic tile floor. But dang if he didn’t catch the poor thing. I took it outside and released it, and it flew off.”

No bird, but a bat mocked Janice Klein when she was a director in a small museum:

“The museum had a wide open plan and (other than the rest rooms) my office was the only space with a door, so when a little brown-nosed bat appeared late one afternoon when everyone else had gone home, that was where I had to chase him. Once I got him in the room he started panicking and echo-locating (and frankly, I also made some of those little squeaky noises, since I didn’t know anything about bats). I managed to trap him under a box top, but then didn’t know what to do next. It was freezing cold outside, which was probably why he found a way in to the nice warm building, so I didn’t want to just show him the door. I called one of my board members (it always pays to have a naturalist on the board who is willing to give wild creatures refuge in his basement) and while we were waiting, I finally realized why one of my motion detectors had gone off the night before.”

And Suzanne Quigley provided hands-on advice on what to do if woodpeckers are an issue:

Of course, there are birds in collections that are not an issue.

Of course, there are birds in collections that are not an issue.

“I am also in a rural area (a recent change of lifestyle). After living my whole life in big cities, there has been a lot to learn. But germane to this discussion, I have learned a bit about woodpeckers. This has become important as I live in a wood-clad house. Once we figured out what that horrible noise was, and saw what the little devils were doing to the side of the house – it was war. The battle was won in a rather bizarre, but funny way. No one notices (cause they aren’t looking for it), but scattered around the exterior in more or less discreet spots we have pinned (with clear pushpins) about a dozen 10-inch long shiny, strips of silver mylar ribbon (the kind used to wrap presents) made into curls over the edge of a pair of scissors – this was three years ago and no more woodpeckers!”

Well, I learned much more than I thought. Thanks to Kara Vetter, Anne Lane, Elizabeth Alberding, Julie Blood, Suzanne Quigley and Janice Klein for the responses and Maria O’Malley for convincing me to write a Registrar Trek post about it.

Oh, by the way, I finally managed to usher that little fellow out of my storage, securing my colleague on call a good night sleep. Chasing a bird is one thing but being called in the middle of the night because the burglar alarm went off is much, much worse.

The case of the mysterious earphone

Beaujour, mes amis,

today, I’m proud to announce the opening of the French version of Registrar Trek! Now our French readers have the possibility to read posts directly, not only as PDF and to subscribe to a French newsfeed. Thanks to Aurore Tisserand for translating all the necessary texts to make this possible. We celebrate this achievement with a post about a French-German cooperation in collections research made possible by the fantastic Registrar Trek network, especially by Marine Martineau.

À bientôt



„Didn’t you take French at school?“ my colleague Bernd Kießling asked across the table, looking up from a set of earphones he was documenting.

“I can order you a tarte flambée and a café au lait but might accidentally provoke an international conflict when trying to order a hotel room, why do you ask?” I said, looking up from a long list of objects that had to be cross-checked with our data base.

“This earphone is made in Paris, but I’m not sure about the manufacturer. Have a look.”
I moved over and took a look at his monitor where he showed me the tiny inscriptions he magnified by using an USB microscope*.

Detail of one receiver of the earphone, picture taken by the USB microscope

Detail of one receiver of the earphone, picture taken by the USB microscope

“Slé INDlle des…” I spelled out, “I don’t know, seems like an abbreviation of some kind, maybe the manufacturer, but I don’t know. You know what? I’ll send the picture over to Marine. She’s in Paris, so maybe she can help us with that.”

Marine Martineau, registrar and translator for English/French at Registrar Trek received the mail a few minutes later. She took a look and passed it along to Thierry Lalande, collections manager at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. He and his colleague Marie Sophie Corcy had the idea to ask Frédéric Nibart, a wide-known expert of the French phone.

Within a few days we knew that the earphone was built in July 1928 by the Société Industrielle des Téléphones in Paris. We even received an article from M. Nibart about their company history which we immediately included in our data base.

It was a great feeling of international collaboration made possible by the worldwide network of Registrar Trekkers. We really hope we can return the favor one day.


Storage solution for the collection of earphones: These long archival boxes are usually used for storing maps but have exactly the right dimensions to support earphones in the position most “natural” to them. For final storage we will support them with some bubble wrap and make a hood out of polyethylene foil for the boxes.

Storage solution for the collection of earphones: These long archival boxes are usually used for storing maps but have exactly the right dimensions to support earphones in the position most “natural” to them. For final storage we will support them with some bubble wrap and make a hood out of polyethylene foil for the boxes.

* = The USB microscope was originally part of a hands-on demonstration in a temporary exhibition and has a second and very useful live now in artifact research.

A Registrar’s Wish List #registrardreams

Nicht in meinem Depot! Superhelden-Fähigkeiten wären manchmal praktisch...

Not in my vaults! Sometimes we all could need some registrar superpowers…

As an spin-off of a discussion following the release of an article from Sheila Perry about their barcoding project at the National Galleries of Scotland (“If it moves, barcode it” ) Dan Smernicki (twitter @DanSmernicki ) came up with the idea for a new post on Registrar Trek:

“A Registrar’s Wish-list. Things that *should* exist, but for some infernal reason don’t.”

I guess you all have your dreams and wishes – some concrete and easy to realize if the Money-for-collections-care-fairy (“You’ve got 3 archival wishes”) appeared, some futuristic (magic glasses that let me see the object I’m searching for marked red in the rack) some out of wishful thinking (white gloves that remain white).

So far we have:

  • Dan Smernicki @DanSmernicki : a system which tracks items, and people, and reconciles the two.
  • Me @RegistrarTrek : condition reports on-the-fly and an app telling me if I have a fitting crate
  • Cecilia Peartree ‏@ceciliapeartree : Works of art that shriek loudly if nobody has notified the database team of their location change.
  • Maggie Mazzullo: I wish I had a special sixth sense that alerted me when people are/were in the vault area ‘rummaging’ around or otherwise causing an upsetting mess. Kind of a vault alarm and then I could appear right behind them and catch them in the act.
  • Maggie Mazzullo: I also wish I had a laser system that would target and vaporize pens, beverages and other verboten items as they were coming into the student study area to interact with artwork.
  • Caitlin (Schwartz) Rumery: I would have to add onto the aforementioned condition report one and say glasses that examine an object and let me know of any lose, unstable, or otherwise-about-to-break-in-my-hands parts.
  • Caitlin (Schwartz) Rumery: Also, a magic system that creates Crystal reports on the fly based on what I need at that moment.
  • Caitlin (Schwartz) Rumery: Lastly, a drone to follow my trucks so I can spy on my shipments and the drivers. That way I can make sure there is no funny business happening on the road…

Please add your wish/dream to the list, either by commenting or by using twitter and the hashtag #registrardreams

The really geeky stuff – how we did it

If it moves, barcode it! Part 2

By Sheila Perry

Note: This is part 2 of the article “If it moves barcode it”, read part 1 here.

We had 3 sets of barcode labels made, with separate ranges of numbers for drawings, prints and photographs, starting from DR00001, PR00001 and PH00001 respectively. These numbers were meaningless and the only important thing was that we knew which objects were in which box. I created a big spreadsheet which showed the correlation between all the different box numbering systems, and we then used this to create an upload to our collections database which changed the box numbers there. This was slightly nerve-racking as there was a risk of the cells in the spreadsheet going out of sync when they were being manipulated. However, undoubtedly the worst part of the whole operation was attaching the labels to the boxes. The labels were provided individually on backing material and had to be peeled off, and (as with double-sided sticky tape) it was only too easy to scrunch them up while you were detaching them! The best part about having the barcodes on the boxes was that we didn’t need to print or write out any lists to record new locations when we started to move them back into the building. We just scanned them with a mobile barcode reader (a Datalogic Skorpio mobile computer) and used that to record the moves, downloading an Excel file from it at the end of each day and then feeding a ‘box upload’ to our database.

powerpick screenshot barcode

The software [PowerPick – see screenshot] that controls the three Kardex machines holds a small, simple database with a list of box numbers, two description fields which we use for the previous names for each box, and the location of the boxes within the storage system. The box number is used to enable people to cross-refer to our collections database to find the list of items in the box. So in order to retrieve a specific object, the user searches for it on the collections database, finds the box number and feeds it into the PowerPick database, which finds the location (machine number, tray number and position on the tray) and tells the appropriate machine to deliver the tray. The boxes have a ‘home location’ in the units and are usually returned to the same position after being taken out, although this can be changed in the database if necessary. On return, the barcode on the box may be scanned to enable the software to find the right location and deliver the correct tray, but in practice the box number is often typed or pasted into the search field.

No stopping us now!

Soon after this we carried out a few smaller barcoding projects to help us to track individual items. In these cases we attached sticky labels of various types to the boxes or packaging of the items. We printed the labels ourselves, which had the advantage that we could include as much extra information on them as we wanted. For the portrait miniatures collection we used conservation standard labels and included an image, the artist name, title and the accession number converted into a barcode. For some reason we always had trouble keeping track of the collection before doing this. The individual miniatures were hard to identify and it was difficult to label them effectively until they were stored in boxes. From the audit point of view it is much quicker to check through them now that they have barcodes. However one issue with ‘do-it-yourself’ labels is that the barcode occasionally turns out to be unreadable. I would say this happens in about 5-10% of cases, whereas for the pre-printed barcodes the failure rate is much less than this. As a follow-up to the portrait miniatures project we added labels with barcodes to the packaging for a collection of portrait medallions, stored in envelopes. These were also hard to track/audit until we did this.

portrait miniatures with barcodes

Some of my colleagues are now at the start of an audit project for the Scottish National Gallery print room, and as part of this they have begun to attach pre-printed barcoded labels to the boxes there too. Any move that takes place will not happen for a while, so for once we have learned from experience and left ourselves enough time to get organised. The latest instalment in our efforts to drag the organisation into the 20th century [no, I don’t mean the 21st!] is under way.

What have we learned (if anything)?

  • We have up to now focussed on barcoding relatively small and insignificant artworks, or more accurately their containers, and not the large valuable ones. This is not because we value the small and insignificant ones more than the others, but because the smaller ones are generally harder to keep track of and easier to mix up with one other. It might be that for the more important/larger items we should be investing in RFID instead of barcode labelling, as this could combine added security with location tracking and/or with condition monitoring. But this is a battle still to be fought.
  • ‘Home-made’ barcodes don’t scan quite as reliably as the pre-printed ones – but you can convert anything you like into a barcode if you print the labels in-house, and it also provides more flexibility, allowing other information to be incorporated as required, and the ability to print off extra labels from time to time.
  • Although barcoding is a good method for providing unambiguous labelling and to facilitate quick audits, there are other methods which would also work if applied with consistency and accuracy.

If it moves, barcode it!

[Better still, barcode it before it moves…]

By Sheila Perry

Our barcoding efforts have been geared towards immediate practical needs rather than the wholesale adoption of technology by the organisation. We might have proceeded somewhat differently if we had acted strategically and attempted to barcode everything in all the National Galleries of Scotland collections. On the other hand, if we had waited to get a consensus on that we might not have done anything at all!

It begins

PNIN - Kardex tray with boxes

Our initial barcoding project was prompted by the installation of automated storage machines (Kardex) at the refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2011, but it was also the final outcome of a drive to audit every item in the prints, drawings and photographs collections. These had previously been stored, mostly in modern solander boxes, in various locations around the Portrait Gallery, a Victorian gothic structure with spiral stone staircases leading to turret and attic store rooms. We never fully understood what was kept in these areas until we had to empty out the building in 2009.
In the case of the prints and drawings the main issue at this point was the box numbering system that was then in use, although there was also doubt about whether the contents of each box were correctly recorded on our collections database, while in the case of the photography collection the main factor was that large chunks of the collection were not recorded in any way.

The boxes in which the drawings were stored were labelled with a range of numbers corresponding to an obsolete object numbering system. In some cases the labels, which were pieces of cardboard slotted into metal label holders on the front of each box, had fallen out of the label holders and got lost. Similarly, each box of prints was labelled with a range of numbers corresponding to the accession numbers of the prints that were allegedly kept in the box.

box labelling example

As the prints were not numbered sequentially but according to a complex system designed to record whether the print was Scottish, English or ‘Foreign’, the century in which the print was made and in some cases the coded identity of the sitter, this meant that a box might be numbered something like ‘SP IV 58.1 –150.6’. Some of the print containers had these numbers stencilled on them, often in gold, while others had cardboard labels in label holders as with the drawings boxes.

Once we moved all the boxes out of the Portrait Gallery, having added our own temporary box labels to help us place them on their new shelves in a sensible order and to record the locations on our database, the prints and drawings were stored in one temporary store and the photographs in another. Two projects got under way, one to audit the contents of the prints and drawings boxes and one to catalogue the remaining photographs.

It was mainly because we didn’t want all this tidying up to be wasted that we pressed for all the boxes to be barcoded before their return to the Portrait Gallery. The fact that they were going to be stored in an automated retrieval system which could work with a barcode reader as its input device gave us a pretext to move forward with this. There was a short debate with curators and others about whether each item should be barcoded individually or not, and an even shorter debate about barcoding versus RFID tagging, the latter turning out to be one step too far.

Read the real geeky stuff in part 2 – how they did it!

Sheila Perry is Collections Information Systems Manager at the National Galleries of Scotland, based in the Registrars Department, with responsibility for maintaining and developing the NGS collections database and associated systems. Earlier in her career she was a programmer and database designer, and she writes mystery novels under a pen-name.

European registrars Conference 2014: Be Prepared!

Ei vahinko tule kello kaulassa.
An accident won’t arrive with a bell on its neck.
(Finnish Proverb)

A little tired we started into the second day. The decision had to be made between „Valuation and Insurance“ and „Be Prepared“. Well, I felt not prepared after going to bed at 2 a.m., so I chose „be prepared“.

The first presentation „Disaster Relief / AIC-CERT“ was divided in two parts, one about the idea and the training by Julie Bakke, Chief Registrar at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston/USA and one they called „Steve’s Reality Show“ from Steve Pine, Senior Conservator for Decorative Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston/USA.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 it became apparent that the biggest problem in saving collections is not that there are too few people who are willing to help nor is it that there is too few expertise, the problem was that there was no form of organization that brings those two much needed components together. Therefore the American Institute for Conservation developed AIC-CERT (American Institute for Conservation – Collections Emergency Response Team). It is a group of volunteers consisting of conservators and collections specialists that will offer their knowledge in case of emergency – via phone, email or on-site.

Training is always a crucial point when it comes to save collections after a disaster. People who are trained will better know what to do and much less likely lose their heads. That’s why AIC-CERT conducts trainings all over the US. Participants learn in 5 days how to form effective emergency response teams, how to work together with other emergency professionals and how to protect oneself and others. The last point is extremely important, for museum people often don’t think about their own safety when entering a disaster zone. Among the recommendations were:

  • make sure you wear proper safety equipment like hard hat, gloves, masks…
  • before re-entering a disaster zone make sure people know where you are going
  • never go there alone, always enter with a buddy
Be prepared: Julie Bakke with hard hat, mask and, of course, clipboard. Picture via twitter @BergFulton

Be prepared: Julie Bakke with hard hat, mask and, of course, clipboard. Picture via twitter @BergFulton

What is crucial even in „minor“ incidents is to have an „Incident Command Post“, someone who coordinates everything that is done on site and who makes sure that all the information is flowing: safety warnings from police and fire fighters to the emergency response team, handling instructions from the advising conservators to the emergency response team, findings and new dangers detected by the emergency response teams to the officials,…

An emergency team in the way the AIC-CERT sees it consists normally of 4 people: 1 team leader, 2 people in the field and 1 logistics coordinator. Somehow registrars and collection managers seem to be a perfect fit for the logistics coordinator, because they are often responsible for their institution’s disaster plan already. They can also be good fits for the Incident Command Post.

The training of the AIC-CERT isn’t purely theoretical. They do mock disasters in their training. They set up a scenario (category 3 hurricane in the museum, fire in the library due to a short circuit…) and the training team has to go through it to learn what to do and when.

Along with this session came the information that the long known „Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel“ is now available as app for mobile devices:

Steve Pine reported on what AIC-CERT had done to help when Sandy stroke. In this case the MOMA acted as an information hub with conservators giving advise and coordinating help. They used their „Inside/Out“ blog to offer help and answer questions from artists whose artworks were affected by flooding. You can take a look at these posts here:

Steve showed pictures of the work that was done by AIC-CERT members together with artists and other volunteers to save the artworks of an artist’s colony and the costumes and props of the Martha Graham Dance Company ( Toilet paper instead of Japanese paper helped to dry pictures before mold could set in. Window screens were used as drying racks. An empty industrial hall as „field hospital“ for artworks and props… It was impressive to see how the professional knowledge of conservators and the spirit of improvisation resulted in saving thousands of artworks.

Fire at the museum

The next session confronted us with another registrar’s nightmare: „Fire at the Museum“. Adina Ekbergh, Security Manager of the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm/Sweden reported the incidents of this black day very calmly but vividly.

When the smoke detector in the cold storage room went off they immediately evacuated the museum and the fire brigade arrived 7 minutes later. Unfortunately, smoke had infected the storage rooms in the vicinity of the cold storage room and the fire sprinklers did their work for 13 minutes, soaking the artifacts stored there. Fortunately, Adina was on site and immediately entitled to coordinate everything that was necessary by upper management.

When the fire fighters had everything under control all doors were opened to let the smoke out and staff members guarded the doors. Most staff members waited on site to go back into the building to help with recovery. But unfortunately, the forensic investigation couldn’t be completed on that day and the building was sealed at midnight. The investigation continued the next day. Needless to say, the museum staff couldn’t begin with the treatment of the wet artifacts before the forensic investigation was completed. Precious time passed, and as a collection of feather, fur and leather artifacts was affected, the 24 hours that passed before staff could begin with recovery were enough for mold to set in.

As soon as they could enter, the recovery began. They decided to freeze everything that was infected. From Thursday to Saturday every staff member helped with the treatment. At first they worked without protective equipment because there weren’t enough masks and gloves on site. Shopping for this equipment was one of the first tasks!

Adina pointed out that they learned a lot from this disaster:

  • Always have enough protective equipment at hand, because one can be sure that everybody wants to help but health of staff members should come first! Adina put it this way: we regard ourselves as professionals working with items, not as people. Therefore we often forget to consider health risks.
  • If someone offers help, don’t say no. Don’t underestimate how disasters are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • No items should stand on the floor!
  • Write a diary of what happened when in the incident – you forget!
  • Involve the neighbors.
  • Have good connections to officials like fire brigade and police – establish them before something happens.
  • Train your staff for disasters.

The reason for the fire was identified as high voltage in a sensor of cold storage room. Pondering about the safety of our own collections we left for coffee break.

European Registrars Conference 2014: Art Theft and Recovery

Vahinko tulee viisaallekin.
Even the wise one sustains damage.
(Finnish Proverb)

The last sessions of the first day saw two speakers who were were different in appearance and presentation style but who definitely pull together when it comes to bringing back lost art: Christopher A. Marinello, Director and Founder of Art Recovery International and Rune Sivertsen, Detective Superintendent of the Norwegian Police. It was the eloquent lawyer and the straightforward law-enforcer speaking – and we were all spellbound for the next one and a half hours.

Chris Marinello speaking about the restitution of a Matisse (via twitter @erc2014)

Chris Marinello speaking about the restitution of a Matisse (via twitter @erc2014)

„Who steals art?“, asked Chris Marinello at the beginning of his presentation „Art lost and found“. He made it clear that art thieves are not at all like they are depicted in Hollywood movies like „The Thomas Crown Affair“ or „Entrapment“. There is nothing romantic or heroic about them, they are just ordinary criminals, the type of guys who steal wallets.

Art theft is an „industry“ making 6 billion dollars per year. But how many „good guys“ are there to prosecute these thefts? Marinello had it in figures: In Italy there is one Art Crime Police Officer for 200,000 inhabitants. In the UK it’s one for 15 million inhabitants and in the US it’s one for 20 million inhabitants. Only 15% of lost art is ever recovered. This is one of the reasons why, in Marinello’s opinion, it’s necessary to have help from the private sector.

He introduced the database „Art Claim“ for stolen, looted and missing works of art. One idea is that museums and collectors can register their art works there before anything happens to them. This makes it clear who the original owner is, so art dealers can check the data base when an artwork is presented to them to make sure it isn’t stolen. Police can check the database when they discover an artwork, for example after a razzia.

Another part of the work of Art Recovery International is the negotiation in restitution cases. Chris talked about some difficult cases, including one from the Gurlitt art find. One can only imagine the difficulties of negotiating in cases where something is regarded as legally acquired under the law but still, morally, belongs to the original owner. Convince someone to give a work of art back without compensation just to do the right thing and to right a wrong that happened long ago? Sounds like really hard work.

Now Rune Sivertsen entered the stage for „The Robbery of The Scream and The Madonna from Munchmuseet in 2004“. We were all ears when this police officer revealed the bitter truth of this theft.

There were some circumstances that made it easier for the robbers, although they couldn’t foresee them: The security guard was positioned outside the room where „The Scream“ and „The Madonna“ were on display and the alarm system attached to the pictures was not properly maintained so it didn’t go off when the pictures were removed. The robbers where well prepared for other circumstances: one carried a gun and they used fitting foam glue to silence the alarm bell.

Picture of the robbery – approaching the getaway car

Picture of the robbery – approaching the getaway car

But there were lucky incidents, too: The robbery was filmed and one witness unknowingly took a picture of the getaway car. While the robbers were masked, the driver wasn’t and was identified. Another robber was identified because he wore the same clothes when arrested in another case. But still it took 2 years and 7 days to recover the pictures, which suffered major damages, and to arrest all the robbers.

What really shocked us as museum professionals was when the true reason for the theft became apparent: The pictures were not stolen to steal art and sell it. They were only stolen to distract attention and absorb manpower of the police from the investigation of a major monetary robbery at NOKAS ( conducted by the same organization of criminals! Even more shocking – if possible: The sentences for the robbery were low, the only one who was sentenced to a significant amount of time in jail for this crime was the one who carried a loaded gun…

With the impression that maybe its only we who regard art theft as a „serious“ crime we went off to the Midsummer Party at Kiasma…

This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau.

FAUX Real: On the Trail of an Art Forger – Art and Craft Trailer

Hey Trekkers!

picture: LSU University Art Museum

The forger – Mark Augustus Landis
Also known Aliases:
2009 – Steven Gardiner
2010 – Father Arthur Scott
2011 – Father James Brantley
2012 – Mark Lanois
2013 – Martin Lynley and John Grauman

Well, as I think back to August 7, 2008 whilst at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art working on preparations for an acquisitions meeting, I am proud to say that I am the sole individual to bring down the most prolific art forger in history! Now, I can continue to educate people but now in a much bigger and broader scale with a new medium and here’s why!

The film, Art and Craft that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, will hit theaters in the US on September 19 at Lincoln Plaza in New York City. Art and Craft has been getting rave reviews from all the festivals in which it has been an official selection and much attention from movie goers. I am certain that the museum realm will once again open their eyes to my findings once Art and Craft hits theaters.

For those of you not in the US but want to see the film, EARLY 2015 you will be able to find Art and Craft on DVD, Amazon Instant Video, NETFLIX, iTunes, Hulu and other streaming media.

Trekker, your daily work is a big contribution to the museum community and don’t think for a moment it goes unnoticed! That day in August, yeah I never thought this would happen!

Here is a link on for the official theatrical trailer. Please share on your social media sites so you can help me continue to spread the word about the most prolific art forger in history!

Talk Soon,


This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau.