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Billionaire's looted art still on display at Israel Museum – Rocky Mountain Outlook



JERUSALEM (AP) — One of the Israel Museum’s biggest patrons, American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, approached the flagship Israeli art institution in 2007 with an artifact he had recently bought: a 2,200-year-old Greek text carved into limestone.

But shortly after it went on display, an expert noticed something odd — two chunks of text found a year earlier during a dig near Jerusalem fit the limestone slab like a jigsaw puzzle. It soon became clear that Steinhardt’s tablet came from the same cave where the other fragments were excavated.

Last month, Steinhardt surrendered the piece, known as the Heliodorus Stele, and 179 other artifacts valued at roughly $70 million as part of a landmark deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to avoid prosecution. Eight Neolithic masks loaned by Steinhardt to the Israel Museum for a major exhibition in 2014 were also seized under the deal, including two that remain exhibited at the museum.

Museums worldwide are facing greater scrutiny over the provenance — or chain of ownership — of their art, particularly those looted from conflict zones or illegally plundered from archaeological sites. There are growing calls for such items to be returned to their countries of origin.

Donna Yates, a criminologist specializing in artifact smuggling at Maastricht University, said that several recent scandals involving looted artifacts — such as the Denver Art Museum’s return of Cambodian antiquities — are “causing museums to reconsider the ownership history of some of the objects that they have.”

“They can’t really afford the public embarrassment of constantly being linked to this kind of thing, because museums aren’t wealthy and many of them hold a place of public trust,” she said.

In addition to the Heliodorus Stele and two of the ancient masks, at least one other Steinhardt-owned artifact in the Israel Museum is of uncertain provenance: a 2,800-year-old inscription on black volcanic stone. The museum’s display states the origin as Moab, an ancient kingdom in modern-day Jordan.

How it got to Jerusalem remains unclear.

Steinhardt gave the Royal Moabite Inscription to the museum on extended loan in 2002, shortly after buying it from a licensed Israel dealer in Jerusalem, said Amir Ganor, who heads the Israel Antiquities Authority’s theft prevention unit.

That dealer, who confirmed the deal but spoke on condition of anonymity because of the legal questions surrounding the item, told The Associated Press that he obtained the inscription from a Palestinian colleague in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, who didn’t specify its provenance.

“I don’t know how it got to the dealer in Jerusalem,” Ganor said. He said it could have come from the West Bank, neighboring Jordan or through Dubai, a longtime antiquities hub.

The Israel Museum declined interview requests and refused to show the artifact’s documentation.

But in a statement, it denied wrongdoing, saying it “consistently follows the applicable regulations at the time the works are loaned.” It said all displays are “in full cooperation” with the antiquities authority.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said the Moabite Inscription wasn’t part of the Steinhardt investigation and declined to discuss the item.

James Snyder, who was the Israel Museum’s director from 1997 to 2016, said all artifacts coming to the museum have their provenance checked by the IAA before they’re exhibited, and that Steinhardt’s other looted artworks “came with documentation of legal ownership.”

“We were given documentation of legal purchase, it was approved to come in on loan and it was approved to be returned” by the authority, Snyder said.

Israel has a legal antiquities market run by some 55 licensed dealers. They are allowed to sell items discovered before 1978, when a law took effect making all newfound artifacts state property.

This market has provided an outlet for the laundering of smuggled and plundered antiquities from around the Middle East that are given fabricated documentation by dealers in Israel. Israel began closing that loophole in 2016, when it mandated a digital database of dealers’ artifacts.

Israel recently returned smuggled antiquities found in dealers’ stores to Egypt and Libya. Other antiquities stolen from Iraq and Syria — including thousands of cuneiform tablets purchased by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green in 2010 — were smuggled to Israeli dealers before being sold to collectors with fraudulent documentation.

Morag Kersel, archaeology professor at DePaul University in Illinois, said the wanton plunder of archaeological sites across the Middle East ultimately “is all demand driven.”

“Looters do this because there’s someone like Steinhardt who’s willing to pay money and buy things that come straight out of the ground,” she said.

Under the deal, the Manhattan District Attorney seized 180 of Steinhardt’s artifacts and will repatriate them to their respective countries. Steinhardt also agreed to a lifetime ban from acquiring antiquities — though it is unclear how that ban will be enforced.

Steinhardt, 81, is a longtime patron of the Israel Museum and many other Israeli institutions, including a natural history museum at Tel Aviv University bearing his name. Since 2001, his family foundation has donated over $6.6 million to the Israel Museum, according to partial U.S. tax filings.

Steinhardt was not accused of plundering any items himself and has said he did not commit any crimes. But the DA’s office said he “knew, or should have ascertained by reasonable inquiry” that the antiquities were stolen.

Steinhardt declined an interview request. His office issued a brief statement saying the Manhattan DA “did not challenge Mr. Steinhardt’s right, title, or interest to any of the artifacts” other than those in the settlement.

The DA began investigating Steinhardt’s massive antiquities collection in 2017 after he loaned a Bull’s Head sculpture to the Metropolitan Museum of Art that had been plundered from a site in Lebanon.

The DA says the three items at the Israel Museum are “effectively seized in place,” and has opened talks with Israel to coordinate the return of 28 additional items. It said Steinhardt “has been unable to locate” the final nine items traced to Israel.

Of those 40 artifacts, more than half are believed to have been plundered from West Bank sites, according to court documents. An additional nine artifacts from Jordan, many sold to Steinhardt through Israel’s licensed antiquities market, are also being repatriated.

Neither the Jordanian government nor the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry responded to requests for comment. Under interim peace deals in the mid-1990s, the fate of items taken from the occupied West Bank is to be part of a still elusive peace deal.

The Israel Museum said it had only recently learned about the settlement and is currently examining the matter.

For now, the plundered artifacts in the museum still bear Steinhardt’s name.


Follow Ilan Ben Zion on Twitter at

Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press

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The art of Katherine McNenly: An enduring gift to generations – CTV Edmonton



In her Almonte home and studio, an artist sits face to face with the subject of her latest portrait.

It’s a young girl. Her gaze is fixed and serious; her wide, dark eyes focused on the painter before her.  

The girl isn’t actually in the room, although the image on the canvas is so strikingly real, it feels like she could be. 

In reality, she is a creation; a timeless treasure brought to life by the gifted brush of Katherine McNenly.

“It’s something much more than a photograph.  It’s something that’s going to endure,” McNenly said.

“It’s a piece of history.  It’s going to last. It could be in your family for generations.”

Katherine McNenly painting

McNenly is an award-winning portrait and still life artist. She is an ardent observer of the living and inanimate, capturing, on canvas, the people and things we love.

“I think it’s trying to get people to stop and slow down and just look at something for a few moments and maybe think about the miracle of what you’re looking at,” she said.

“For me, it’s the just the beauty of looking at these objects and people. You’re bringing them to light. It’s almost like magic.”  

The magic began for McNenly during childhood. A lifelong drawer and painter, she studied fine art in the 1980’s at York University during the day, and took night classes with an English portrait painter living in Toronto.

“It was really amazing to get that foundation which is really what I wanted,” said the artist.

Katherine McNenly paintingMcNenly typically paints from photographs she takes herself.  Meeting subjects in person is often a valuable part of her process.

“I prefer that so I have an interaction with them and get to know them before doing the portrait.  So, even though you’re doing a likeness, you’re also trying to capture something of their personality,” said McNenly.

At International competitions, featuring works from thousands of artists, McNenly’s pieces have received top honours from the Portrait Society of America.  

 She is frequently commissioned; her larger, more detailed requests often taking several months to complete.

 McNenly’s still life pieces are equally demanding. She painstakingly sets up each one, working to capture the seemingly ordinary, while elevating it to something worthy of our interest and focus.

 “I like the challenge of painting these inanimate objects from life, usually with natural light, and trying to find all the variations in light and shape and form and colour. There’s almost a feeling of air of movement, like it’s vibrating,” said McNenly.

McNenly painting

McNenly is also a gifted landscape painter. In warmer weather, she loves venturing into the great outdoors to find her next piece.

“I like to do plein air.  It’s wonderful to be outside in nature and painting it.

Despite McNenly’s years at the easel, and her commitment to excellence, the artist confesses to never being fully satisfied with the outcome.

“With every painting, I always feel disappointed in the end. I feel it’s not good enough. I need to keep going.”

And Katherine McNenly will, fuelled by the faces she’s yet to meet, and the art she was born to create.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Every time, it’s something brand new again, so you’re always feeling this passion.”

The art of Katherine McNenly can be viewed on her website or at General Fine Craft in Almonte. Her work will also be exhibited, along with other artists, at a show on April 23-24 at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte.

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City applying for grant to fund temporary downtown art exhibit –



The city is hoping the exhibit will encourage more residents to go downtown and visit its businesses in the process while celebrating “the reconnection of our communities in the aftermath of the

“This project directly supports free, accessible delivery of arts and culture programming to the community while enhancing the downtown core,” said a January 24th report for council.

The city can apply for up to $100,000 and must do so before the end of March 2023.

Council directed staff to apply for the grant on Monday, January 24th.

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Collaborative art exhibition explores grief at GV – Grand Valley Lanthorn – Grand Valley Lanthorn



The Grand Valley State University Art Gallery hosted a brand new exhibition Thursday with “Sorrow/Fullness: A Reflection on Mourning.” This is a metalsmithing showcase that takes a look at grief and loss through the lens of reflection and celebration. The exhibition was a collaboration between three metalsmith artists, including Sue Amendolara, Adrienne M. Grafton and GVSU professor Renee Zettle-Sterling. 

Amendolara and Grafton were unable to attend but it was ultimately a success, with an extremely positive reception from those who attended. 

I just wish that Sue and Adrienne could have been there with me,” Zettle-Sterling said. “I felt that people were receptive to the work and the ideas surrounding the show.  I received a lot of questions and interest seemed to be positive.”

The showing was a big deal for the artists, as it saw them return to a world where their work could be viewed by spectators in person. Zettle-Sterling said that the energy that surrounds a live show just does not compare to online showings. 

“I am feeling very lucky that the show is able to be seen in a live setting,” Zettle-Sterling said. “I have been in several shows that have been forced to be online exhibitions and it’s just not the same. It reminds me of teaching online versus teaching in person; it’s just not the same and lacks soul.”

Grafton was happy to return to showing in person as well, as the coming together of artists to show and discuss efforts was her favorite aspect of pre-COVID exhibitions. She was also grateful for the precautions and actions taken by GVSU in order to best showcase the project. 

“It was truly wonderful to be with friends and family again at our opening back in October at the Erie Art Museum,” Grafton said. “When the pandemic hit, one of the things I missed the most was art openings and museums. I absolutely love gathering with artists and looking at and discussing work. With the latest rise in COVID-19, it again feels intimidating to get together, but, I’m very pleased with the online presence GVSU has created to showcase this exhibition.”

“Sorrow/Fullness” explores the realm of grief and loss, with a special focus on celebrating the lives of lost loved ones and the experiences shared with them. The art pieces have a very personal connection to the artists, as they were inspired by the lost loved ones in their own lives. 

Grafton’s work was inspired by her mother, who passed away in 2014. The event was something that touched her deeply, ultimately inspiring the pieces shown in “Sorrow/Fullness.”

“A few years after her passing I began using the grief as a source of inspiration for the body of work in the show,” Grafton said. “The work for me is about the passing of time and memories. I use recognizable imagery to tell stories about my emotions and experiences. In my piece titled “Residue,” I’ve taken my mom’s old used makeup and dipped it in plaster. The fragile shell encases the things she touched every day that were an important part of her daily routine.” 

Amendolara’s work for the project was also inspired by the loss of her parents. She said that her focus was to celebrate the experiences she had with them and to continue them with surviving family members. 

As a child, I spent a lot of time in my parent’s interior design studio looking at fabrics, wallpapers, antiques, etc.,” Amendolara said. “I loved talking with my father about projects he was working on, and it was these experiences that led me to become a craftsperson.”

Working with different materials led Amendolara to create the piece she made for this exhibit. She took pieces that were personal to her and her loved ones to turn it into something else.

“I made a pair of upholstery scissors using cast flowers from my mother’s funeral bouquet,” Amendolara said. “The scissors are deconstructed,  suggesting lingering grief or the inability to heal.  The scissors rest on a small quilt made from silk from my wedding dress; a reference to family.” 

Coming together to work through grief collectively is a powerful and healing concept that really flourished with “Sorrow/Fullness.” It brought people from all over to experience the grief of the artists as a way to get through their own. Each of the artists hopes all who come to view their work are helping to use it to cope with their personal situations and hopefully broaden the conversation surrounding grief and loss. 

The exhibition will be on display at the Haas Center for Performing Arts Gallery until April 1, 2022. For more information on the project and each of the artists, visit the GVSU Art Gallery website here

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