Experts: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was 'scammed'

Published: Apr. 19, 2019 at 6:49 PM CDT
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Experts say the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was scammed- and it is the reason for the museum closing its upcoming exhibit.

Thursday, TV9 reported how the museum in West Branch closed an upcoming exhibit, featuring a replica of the Rosetta Stone and other Mesopotamian and Egyptian artifacts. When local experts from the University of Iowa reviewed those items, they were concerned by what they found.

"It was clear to me that what we were dealing with were forgeries rather than authentic items," said Dr. Björn Anderson, an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies for the University of Iowa's School of Art and Art History.

For the time being, the temporary exhibit hall at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is closed off. The planned display was suddenly cancelled, officially announced on Thursday from museum staff.

"I think the important thing was that if we opened, would we be serving the public by doing that? And the answer's no," said Tom Schwartz, the Director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

The sudden cancellation came after experts from the University of Iowa came to prepare a presentation of the items on display. Dr. Anderson and a graduate student, Erin Daly, were preparing a series of papers to present on their research of the artifacts. What they found, was "concerning," in their words.

"In the course of looking at them, Erin especially, confided in me as we were leaving, that the seals in particular just didn't quite mesh with what she knew and expected from her experience," Dr. Anderson said.

"They seemed too big and carved in a very strange manner with sort of odd references to some of the iconography that I'm very familiar with," Daly said, who has experience with Ancient Near Eastern seals.

In a report to the museum obtained by TV9, Dr. Anderson found that 90 of the 125 objects in the collection are "either definite or very likely fakes."

"They obviously got taken and defrauded by either the person who knowingly offered this material as fraudulent or if he didn't know, then the gallery that was selling him fraudulent material," Dr. Anderson said.

Dr. Anderson said it is possible smaller museums could be the targets of potential scams, due to their potential inability to access a local expert.

TV9 checked in with the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to see what checks they have in place. Staff says they make sure when bringing in a traveling exhibit, they pay close attention where the items are coming from.

"When we do, it's most often from another art museum and the works have already been previously vetted, or from a gallery, or often times from the artists themselves," said Sean Ulmer, the Executive Director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Both Ulmer and Dr. Anderson admit the West Branch museum was dealt a bad hand- but cancelling the event was the best decision for it, and the public.

"If we were in that same situation, we would react very much the same way," Ulmer said.

"They did the right thing," Dr. Anderson said. "And they did it as quickly as possible and at the worst possible time- you know, 3 days before the exhibit opened I sent them an e-mail that says: 'hey, this stuff is probably all forgeries."'

Schwartz said they have protocols in place when bringing in new exhibits, but once they get the replacement exhibit up and running, they will review their policies for future traveling exhibits.