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'Antiques Roadshow' Seeks Return of Artifacts


A photo montage of three of the missing artifacts

"Antiques Roadshow," the popular and long-running PBS television program, will roll out a new show on Monday, February 22, that will showcase a number of Native American artifacts stolen from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Museum in hopes of assisting in their return. After museum curators discovered the artifacts were missing 10 years ago, an investigation revealed that the museum's former curator of anthropology, David Wooley, had stolen them. The investigation led to Wooley's arrest, conviction and imprisonment for felony theft. Curators determined that Wooley took more than 300 ethnographic and archaeological artifacts. To date the museum has recovered only 33 of the objects, and "Antiques Roadshow" wants to help get the word out from coast to coast in an effort to turn up more of the missing items. The program will air nationally the week of February 22, and WHA-TV in Madison will broadcast the show at 7 p.m. Monday, February 22.

How a German Professor Uncovered the Thefts

In 2000 Professor Christian Feest of Hamburg, Germany, became aware of the planned sale of a Native American war club when he spotted the artifact in an auction house catalog. Recognizing the item as something he had researched at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Feest contacted staff at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. His inquiry sparked the Capitol Police investigation that led to Wooley's arrest.

As part of the investigation, Jennifer Kolb (then deputy museum director) and Scott Roller (collections manager), with the assistance of retired curator Joan Freeman and other staff, inventoried the Native American collections. That inventory revealed the extent of the thefts. Determined to recover as many artifacts as possible, the museum staff has shared information about the missing objects with police departments across the country, written articles and given programs about the thefts, and distributed lists of the missing objects at various professional meetings.

'Antiques Roadshow' Involved in the Case Early On

Two antique dealers who regularly consult for "Antiques Roadshow" became involved the investigation in its early stages when they helped to identify and recover three missing objects. In the spring of 2009, Ann Koski, then the museum's director, received a call from Sarah Elliot, an assistant producer for "Antiques Roadshow," which was planning a shoot in Madison in July. Elliot said that the show was now producing and airing a new segment that publicizes thefts to help organizations and individuals recover stolen artifacts. Elliot had called the Wisconsin State Police to inquire about any major artifact thefts in the state, and the State Police referred her to the museum. Koski told Elliot about the Wooley theft and noted that two of the show's experts had played a key role in the recovery of some of the missing objects. It had now been 10 years since the theft's discovery, and Capitol Police had informed the museum that, typically, stolen items begin to appear on the market after that length of time. "Roadshow" provided the perfect opportunity to publicize the theft once again.

"Antiques Roadshow" decided the museum thefts made a worthy topic for the theft recovery segment, and Elliot set up dates in July to shoot on location. The "Roadshow" crew spent three days on site shooting footage of the recovered objects, the Native American collections storage area, and objects that Wooley had substituted to cover up the theft. "Roadshow" host Mark Walberg interviewed Koski and Capitol Police Detective Ed Bardon about their roles in the detection of the theft, the investigation and the artifact recovery effort.

Tune in on Monday, February 22

Be sure to tune in on WHA-TV at 7 p.m. Monday, February 22, to see the show and listen as the principals who were in the thick of the investigation retell the story. In the meantime, you can visit the Society's Native American Object Recovery Effort page designed to help people learn about the objects that are still missing and hopefully assist in their recovery.

:: Posted February 18, 2010

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