Nobody frames a picture like this

I’m from Princeton, have a farm here, teach at UPenn – I teach an art law seminar. I have a BA/MA in art history and a JD/MBA, so I have students who are in law and MBA programs and students in art and archeology programs.

“What do you teach?”

Artists rights, dealers, galleries, gallery operations, museum management, WWII theft, underwater cultural heritage, historic preservation. Took me 40 years to get to the other side of the desk after four kids but I’m enjoying teaching. I became a docent [at the art museum] because then I got a faculty ID so I didn’t have to go to all the way to Penn to do all of my research. I’m writing a book right now called Begged, Borrowed,  Stolen: The Many Lives of a Work of Art.

“What’s it about?”

The history of the provenance of a lot of objects, where they are, why they are.

“How do you conduct research?”

I’m taking about a dozen case studies. Starting with something like the Bust of Nefertiti that’s in Berlin, but the Egyptians said they stole it when they did an excavation in 1920. They didn’t say it was a really important thing, and snuck it out in a box. Stories like that.

“Do you have any crazy stories about any of the pieces here?”

Sure, I’ll tell you one. The one standing here, for example, is an early Renaissance panel. I think it was probably lopped out of a church because nobody frames a picture like this. It may be a part of a choir series of saints, but someone came forward with a photo showing that it had been in their apartment and it was stolen by the Nazis when they occupied France. So, the University General Counsel Office had it appraised. It’s a portrait of St. Bartholomew, on wood panel. We know it is this because of the knife and the book. He was the patron saint of literature because he was tortured in the early days of the Christian church and was flayed – meaning they removed his skin. So the knife and the book refer to the concept of what they do to cows when they make books out of leather. So, those are his emblems. Anyway, the family showed that this was in their home and when the University had it appraised, it offered the family the picture or the money and they chose the money, so now we have the picture. That’s how a lot of these cases involving WWII are decided – by arbitration and discussion, dialogue and compromise. A lot of people are glad to have the money and the museum is happy to have the painting as part of the teaching collection.

I got a BA in art history. Never thought I’d get a law degree but when we moved to Houston I looked around and there were no graduate studies – everybody was just playing golf, so I went to law and business school because it was just $10 a credit, and my children went to nursery school on campus. I took whatever they had – 9am, 10am, 11am – then we went home and the children took a nap and I did homework. Having the graduate business and law training has allowed me now to have this sort of bifurcated field, which is relatively unique. I would love to teach here in Princeton – I think I could teach a great freshman seminar. Every museum in the country is hiring people to do provenance research. The next generation of women maybe will step up and maybe be the next museum directors.

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