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- Visit www.ignet.gov 2 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 Visit www.ignet.gov 4 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 CONCLUSION 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. Visit www.ignet.gov 6
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)