Returning America's Art to America

Published by the General Services Administration, Office of Inspector General on 2012-04-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

        Returning America’s Art to America

        By Inspector General Brian Miller
        During the New Deal era, the U.S. government               an abundance of New Deal art, much of which is
        paid artists to produce art as part of several federal     still in existence today. GSA, as the custodian of per-
        art programs, most notable of which is the Works           sonal property belonging to the United States, is now
        Progress Administration, Federal Art Project. In the       the official custodian of that artwork. For a variety
        intervening decades, however, many of the remaining        of reasons, however, much of that artwork has been
        works of art have been lost or stolen and are scattered    misplaced. In many cases, the artwork was given as
        throughout the country. Since the U.S. government          unauthorized gifts or simply abandoned.
        commissioned the artwork, these pieces are the right-
        ful property of the United States and its citizens. To
        restore America’s art to America, the General Services
                                                                         “...our awareness efforts,
        Administration Office of Inspector General has un-            cooperation, and dedication to
        dertaken a far-reaching effort to recover these histori-
        cally invaluable artworks. GSA OIG has been work-           restoring this heritage have led to
        ing closely with GSA’s Fine Arts Program, creating
        important alliances that are valuable not just to this       the recovery of 78 pieces of art.”
        effort, but also to OIG’s other oversight activities.
        GSA OIG has also been working to increase aware-           INITIAL INVESTIGATIVE EFFORTS
        ness of the artwork recovery efforts through outreach      When we began this program, it was based largely on
        to the public. Outreach to the public on this topic        tips and regular checks at auction sites and Internet
        of general interest has led to the recovery of several     sites such as e-Bay for WPA art.
        artworks that can now be admired by the public. This       	 We have been working closely with the FAP at
        project also helped to establish better understanding      GSA, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the
        and appreciation of the vital oversight functions of       fine art community to locate, identify and recover
        the Office of Inspector General. To date, our aware-       the missing artwork. When OIG identifies a poten-
        ness efforts, cooperation and dedication to restoring      tial New Deal artwork, we contact the possessor of
        this heritage have led to the recovery of 78 pieces of     the artwork and provide a legal explanation of the
        art.                                                       federal government’s claim to the artwork. We ask
                                                                   the possessor to maintain care and possession of the
        BACKGROUND OF NEW DEAL FEDERAL                             artwork until title research is complete. We notify the
        ART PROGRAMS                                               Department of Justice in case assistance is necessary.
        During the New Deal era from 1933 to 1943, federal         If we determine that the artwork is federal property,
        art programs had several different methods to create       OIG and FAP will work with the possessor to return
        works of art for public use. Some programs were set up     the art, which is then placed at a public location for
        to provide economic relief and paid artists an hourly      all to enjoy.
        wage. In 1934, an artist was paid up to $42 per week,      	 We quickly realized that maintaining 70- or
        as long as he or she turned in a finished piece of art     80-year-old artwork is no small feat and we would
        each week. Other programs involved competitions to         not be able to retrieve these pieces if it were not for
        commission murals and sculptures for specific sites        the care and efforts of those who preserved them. We
        within public buildings. These programs generated          also came to realize that we needed more public out-

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    reach to have a larger impact and that we would get            gory. The Telly awards honor the finest video and
    more tips, including people voluntarily returning art,         film productions. The film is available at http://
    if we could more effectively get our message out.              www.gsa.gov/portal/content/194049.
                                                              •	 Second, we appeared on the Antiques Roadshow
    GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT                                        episode in Washington, DC, over the 2011 Me-
    We reached out to the public using the two following           morial Day weekend. The show included inter-
    means:                                                         views that explained the WPA and our efforts
    •	 First, we worked closely with GSA to produce a              to recover lost art. To highlight our message, a
       22-minute documentary film on the New Deal                  WPA painting was valued at $725,000 during
       Art Recovery Project entitled “Returning Amer-              that show.
       ica’s Art to America.” Charles Osgood, radio and       These efforts significantly increased our outreach,
       television commentator, agreed to narrate the          serving as a kind of “wanted poster” for lost art and
       2010 film, which includes interviews with those        led to other individuals contacting us to return lost
       who have participated in this project, such as         artwork.
       those who have returned New Deal artwork they
       possessed, art historians, investigators, Public Art   SIGNIFICANT EXAMPLES OF RECOVERIES
       Program staff and federal prosecutors.                 OIG and FAP have recovered New Deal art that had
       	 The film was released at a premiere at the           been purchased for $7 at a yard sale, sold on eBay,
       Detroit Institute of Art in October 2010, and in       bought at antique shops and found in attics.
       November 2010, the film was part of an anni-
       versary celebration at the Roosevelt Museum in         “GULLS AT MONHEGAN”
       Hyde Park, N.Y. In 2011, the film won a bronze         Andrew Winter’s “Gulls at Monhegan” was recovered
       “Telly” award in the government relations cate-        after the United States filed a writ of replevin. A rela-

                                              GULLS AT MONHEGAN

3                                                                                                     Journal of Public Inquiry
        tive of a former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica came      “FOURTEENTH STREET AT SIXTH
        into possession of this painting, which had hung in      AVENUE”
        the U.S. Embassy at San Jose. Apparently the paint-      John Sloan’s painting is the one that was valued at
        ing was given to the ambassador when he retired.         $750,000 during the Antiques Road Show. The his-
        	 When the relative attempted to sell the paint-         tory of this painting is illustrative of the convoluted
        ing through an auction house, GSA OIG intervened         path that WPA art can take. This painting hung in the
        to stop the sale. The auction house disputed federal     office of Senator Royal S. Copeland until his death in
        ownership, arguing that the United States had aban-      1938. When Senator James Byrnes took over Senator
        doned its property.                                      Copeland’s office, the painting was no longer there. A
        	 GSA OIG worked with an assistant U.S. at-              congressional staffer found the unframed painting in
        torney to file a lawsuit in federal court in Portland,   a pile of trash next to a dumpster and took it home.
        Maine, seeking a judgment from the court that the        When the staffer died, his sister acquired the paint-
        painting is the property of the federal government.      ing. She did not know that the painting was WPA art
        	 The court granted the United States the provi-         that belonged to the United States until 2003, when
        sional remedy of “replevin” to safeguard the painting    we learned about the painting, and the United States
        until ownership was determined. The auction house        entered into an agreement under which the painting
        subsequently agreed to return the painting to the        is on long-term loan to a museum.
        United States.
        	 As part of the Department of State “Art in Em-         “IRIS GARDEN”
        bassies” program, the painting will next go to the       The recovery of Anne Fletcher’s “Iris Garden” il-
        U.S. Embassy in Croatia.                                 lustrates the effectiveness of our publicity efforts.
                                                                 This painting was originally sent for display to the
                                                                 Home Economics Center in Berryville, Va., in 1939.

                                     FOURTEENTH STREET AT SIXTH AVENUE

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    In 1970, the building housing the Berryville High       out of the building in one trip. Our hero selected a
    School was set to be demolished and the county          framed print of the famous unfinished Gilbert Stuart
    school board invited representatives from each school   portrait of George Washington that graces the one-
    in the county to visit the high school and take what-   dollar bill and an unsigned painting entitled “Iris
    ever they wanted from the building for use in their     Garden,” which he kept.
    own schools. The man who returned the painting was      	 After watching the Antiques Roadshow, he real-
    then a student at nearby Boyce Elementary School.       ized that the painting was actually a WPA piece. He
    His school principal asked two twelve-year-old stu-     contacted OIG and offered to return the painting.
    dents – our hero and a friend – to help load items      On June 21, 2011, an OIG agent picked up the
    from the high school that would be useful at Boyce      painting and deposited it with the GSA FAP office
    Elementary. As a reward, the principal told the stu-    for cataloguing before it is put on display. The citizen
    dents that they could keep whatever they could carry    who returned it has proposed that the painting be
                                                            exhibited at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
       “Not only is there a financial                       in Winchester, Va. FAP has not yet determined an
                                                            estimated value of the painting.
      benefit to the taxpayers, but we
      are protecting cultural treasures                     We have been able to recover valuable paintings
                                                            bought by American taxpayers. Not only is there a
     that capture a period of American                      financial benefit to the taxpayers, but we are protect-
          history in artistic form”                         ing cultural treasures that capture a period of Ameri-
                                                            can history in artistic form. The project is also an ex-

                                                   IRIS GARDEN

5                                                                                                  Journal of Public Inquiry
        cellent opportunity to partner with our agency. GSA                                                                      Brian Miller
        gets to see immediate benefits from working directly                                                                      The U.S. Senate confirmed
        with our office and to observe first-hand the quality                                                                     Brian D. Miller as inspec-
        of our fine special agents, counsel and staff. Many                                                                       tor general of the U.S.
        times, our work benefits the agency in the long run                                                                       General Services Admin-
        by pointing out inefficiencies and problems. This                                                                         istration on July 22, 2005.
        work benefits the agency immediately.                                                                                     Prior to becoming inspec-
        	 The benefits to the taxpayer and to the Ameri-                                             tor general, Mr. Miller worked for the U.S. Depart-
                                                                                                     ment of Justice for 15 years, beginning in the Office
        can public are obvious. The number and value of the
                                                                                                     of Policy Development. Attorney General Janet Reno
        paintings and sculptures recovered continues to rise.                                        appointed him as an assistant U.S. attorney for the
        The 78 items we have recovered have an estimated                                             Eastern District of Virginia, where he concentrated
        value of over $1.15 million.1 I am glad that we have                                         on procurement, grant and health care fraud cases.
        the opportunity to serve the public in partnership                                           In 2001, Mr. Miller served as the senior counsel to
        with GSA in returning America’s art to America. b                                            the deputy attorney general and special counsel for
                                                                                                     health care fraud for the U.S. Department of Justice.
                                                                                                     In 2002, he returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to
                                                                                                     serve as counsel to the United States attorney, while
                                                                                                     continuing grand jury, trial, and appellate responsi-
                                                                                                     bilities as an assistant U.S. attorney.
                                                                                                     	 As inspector general, Mr. Miller leads over 300
                                                                                                     auditors, special agents, lawyers, and support staff in
                                                                                                     conducting nationwide audits and investigations. He
                                                                                                     strives to provide aggressive, strategic and creative
                                                                                                     leadership by developing new ways to fight fraud.
                                                                                                     As a national leader in the fight against procurement
                                                                                                     fraud, Mr. Miller participates in the U.S. attorney
                                                                                                     general’s financial fraud enforcement task force and
                                                                                                     partners with federal, state and local officials to share
                                                                                                     information to detect, investigate and prevent pro-
                                                                                                     curement, Recovery Act and grant fraud. Mr. Miller
                                                                                                     is a frequent speaker at conferences, task force meet-
                                                                                                     ings, and regional working groups, and he testifies
                                                                                                     regularly before Congress.
                                                                                                     	 Mr. Miller has received notable recognition for
                                                                                                     his service as inspector general. Ethisphere magazine
                                                                                                     recognized him as the 12th “most influential person
                                                                                                     in business ethics” by a worldwide panel of experts.
                                                                                                     He was named among “Those Who Dared: 30 Of-
                                                                                                     ficials Who Stood Up for Our Country,” a special
                                                                                                     report of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in
                                                                                                     Washington, a national advocacy organization. Mr.
                                                                                                     Miller also received the Attorney General’s Distin-
                                                                                                     guished Service Award.

        1) These 78 pieces of artwork are not able to be accurately valued since they are unsel-
        lable items. However, if available for public sale, comparable values indicate their value
        would be in excess of $1.15 million.

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