ICE and DOJ return Christopher Columbus letter to Spain


ICE and DOJ return Christopher Columbus letter to Spain

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) returned a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to Spain during an evening repatriation ceremony at the Residence of the Spanish Ambassador to the United States. The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and sold for approximately $1 million.

“I am pleased to be able to return a priceless piece of cultural property to its rightful owners,” said HSI Acting Deputy Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs. “I would like to thank Ambassador Morenés for his hospitality in hosting us tonight, HSI Wilmington, Madrid, Brasilia, and Paris for their excellent work on this investigation, as well as the tremendous assistance by our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Delaware, without whom today’s repatriation would not be possible,” Erichs added.

The return of the letter was the culmination of a seven-year investigation jointly conducted by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware.  It began in 2011 when HSI Wilmington (Del.) and the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office received a tip that several 15th century original manually printed copies of the Columbus Letter were stolen from European libraries and replaced with forgeries without the knowledge of library officials or local law enforcement. The investigation determined that the stolen Columbus Letter from Spain was sold in November 2005 for 600,000 Euros by two Italian book dealers.

“This evening ceremony is a showcase of the ties that bind the United States and Spain together,” said Ambassador of Spain to the United States Pedro Morenés. “The cooperation between Homeland Security Investigations and special units of the Guardia Civil has born great fruit in ensuring the return of stolen cultural property to Spain,” Ambassador Morenes added.

In June 2012, a subject matter expert, accompanied by an HSI Wilmington Special Agent, visited the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and reviewed the Columbus Letter in the possession of the library at which time it was determined, in coordination with Spanish authorities and with support from HSI Madrid that the letter at the library was a forgery.

In March 2013, it was discovered that the Columbus Letter believed to have been stolen from Barcelona was reportedly sold for 900,000 euros in June 2011. Following extensive negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, the individual in possession of the letter volunteered to transfer custody to HSI Special Agents, which was then brought to Wilmington, Delaware in February 2014 for further examination. In March 2014, a subject matter expert evaluated the letter and determined that the document was “beyond all doubt” the original stolen from the National Library of Catalonia. Additionally, other experts conducted a series of non-invasive digital imaging tests, which determined, among other things, the probable use of a chemical agent to bleach the ink of National Library of Catalonia’s stamp and that the paper fibers of the Catalonia Plannck II Columbus Letter had been disturbed from their original state where the stamps were previously located.

U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss stated, “The recovery of this Plannck II Columbus Letter on behalf of the Spanish government exemplifies not only the significance of federal agency partnerships in these complicated investigations but the close coordination that exists between American and foreign law enforcement agencies.  We are truly honored to return this historically important document back to Spain – its rightful owner.  I commend the dogged efforts of HSI special agents and Department of Justice attorneys who are dedicated to the recovery of stolen cultural artifacts from around the world.”

Today’s repatriation marks the second return of a Columbus letter by ICE, the most recent until now taking place in May 2016.

ICE has returned over 11,000 artifacts to over 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia, and two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia, ancient artifacts including a mummy’s hand to Egypt, royal seals valued at $1,500,000 to the Republic of Korea, and most recently, thousands of ancient artifacts to Iraq.

Learn more about ICE’s cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

The Art of Restoration


The Art of Restoration

Chemistry and history resurrect damaged art

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Degas



Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. While an abstract Picasso appeals to one enthusiast, a Manet depicting realism might be a favorite for another. That subjective beauty is at the heart of what makes art so important and precious to collectors. A painting can tell two people completely different stories and evoke distinct emotions. Artwork brings life to a dull wall and tells stories of those who created it. That’s partly why conserving these pieces of history, these storytellers are critical to maintaining their value.

Preserving and conserving art are different — yet related — practices, both vital to the long-term life of artwork. “Preservation is an important concept, in that proper storage and display will minimize damage and can eliminate the need for conservation,” says Alice Perrit, the owner of House of Frames and Paintings, Inc., more familiarly known to Columbia residents as HoFP Gallery. “Everything, including all art, degrades with oxidation, but providing a proper environment is the best defense as it can even minimize damage caused by disasters, such as fire or flood.”

“Basically by conserving your art in taking care of it, you can prevent damage. If damage does occur, a conservator steps in and does a restoration treatment. Conservation prevents damage; restoration treatment repairs the damage,” says Ginny Newell, owner of ReNewell, Inc. Fine Art Conservation. She has been restoring art for nearly 35 years, offering advice on preventative steps clients can take to conserve their art and prevent damage.

“I’m often asked if restoring art decreases its value,” says Ginny. “The decrease in value happens when the art is damaged, not when it comes to me. By then, the devaluation has already occurred. Art that is no longer in pristine condition never has its full value.”


Thanks to Ginny’s years of experience and her vast expertise, many pieces of damaged art have been restored. The act of restoring is certainly not a simple one. It is a combination of chemistry, art history, and applied art — combined with integrity, light-handedness, and good judgment. It is a chemical process of removing embedded grime and oxidized varnish without harming the paint layer, and then there is structural repair to the canvas or paper if needed. “It’s important to separate the artist’s original work from the conservator’s work,” says Ginny. “A conservator is not trying to alter or disguise anything in the original. You want it integrated, but separate.”


Ginny fills in anywhere the original paint is lost. She does not enhance the image or change it; instead, she strives to return it to its original state as closely as possible. Her efforts require more chemistry than art in many cases. She is often tasked with removing embedded surface grime, smoke, and oxidized varnish. “I have to know all of the layers of the art, what pigments are included, and from what period it was created,” adds Ginny. She does this all from a well-equipped lab, where she carefully examines each piece of art prior to giving the client a treatment proposal.

Expertise like Ginny’s is critical to the Columbia Museum of Art, which must care for the thousands of works in its collections. Will South, Ph.D., chief curator at the museum, works with a number of conservators, each with a specialty, such as sculpture, fabric, wood, or paintings. “When a work of art is going on view, we make sure everything is in tip-top shape,” says Will. “There might be some easy fixes, but sometimes a painting has been scratched or has never been restored and has a host of physical problems, such as holes in the art. These are not such an easy fix. A work of art can take a long time to repair. If we get a loan request and do not have sufficient time to conserve that work, we have to deny the request. We can’t show an artist’s work in a bad light.”

No art lasts forever. It will eventually decay. Much of an object’s condition depends on what it has been through. “A ceramic pot buried beneath the ground for 3,500 years can come up looking pretty good,” says Will. “A drawing left out in the rain is probably completely destroyed. In a museum collection, you find a wide variety of conditions from pristine to irreparable.” Because of this, the museum prioritizes what is restored or repaired first. Again, the museum is responsible for showcasing the piece in its best possible light. The art needs to look the way it did when it was made, as much as that is possible so that visitors to the museum can experience the object in the way it was meant to be viewed.

“People want experiences in their lives,” says Will. “They want exotic food, engaging conversation, unpredictable adventures. They also want authenticity. That food should not be synthetic; the conversation should be honest; that adventure should be real. Conservation allows museums to provide people with authenticity. It restores objects that have suffered damage or decay to their original, or close to it, appearance.”



Will explains that when someone stands in front of the Mona Lisa, they want to see what Leonardo saw, to experience the physical culmination of years of highly skilled work. “They don’t travel all the way to the Louvre to see a 3-D computer simulation of the Mona Lisa, however close that replica may be,” he continues. “People want to identify with the maker and the made, to feel something that arises from direct interaction. Conservators help make that possible. They preserve the objects that make up our culture.”

Those objects can evoke the deepest of feelings within a person. The goal is not to view a painting and have its flaws brought to one’s attention. The goal is to view the piece and be transported in one’s own imagination. This science of conservation enables people this ability.

The Columbia Museum of Art was recently tasked with restoring a portrait of Philip IV by the Spanish artist Juan de Pareja. Pareja was born enslaved in 17th century Spain and grew up to be the studio assistant to Velasquez, who was court painter to Philip IV. “Pareja eventually earned his freedom in part through his skill as a painter,” says Will. “It’s a great story. There are only 10 paintings by him in the world; one is in the Prado in Spain, another in the Hermitage in Russia and one in Columbia.”

The CMA’s portrait was given to the museum in 1950 as a Velasquez, but research later revealed it was a Pareja. The painting had been badly overpainted, while also suffering from paint loss and discoloration. “In short, it was a real mess,” adds Will. The museum wanted to resurrect the painting for a new reinstallation slated for later this year. The painting had not been on the walls for years because of its condition. The museum brought in a conservator who specializes in 17th-century European paintings. “The work took two years and a considerable amount of money to complete. Now, the painting glows with a surface unmarred by past awkward attempts at restoration,” Will says. “We will have the painting on the wall and will be able to share the incredible story of an artist who started his career as a slave and ended it as a free man, with his art-making at the center of his life.”

Ginny also recently had an opportunity to work with Will on restoring a valuable piece of art. The museum purchased a Henrietta Deering Johnston (1674-1729) piece at an auction in New York. Johnston is the earliest recorded female artist and the first known pastelist working in the English Colonies. A small pastel (circa 1712) of a woman’s bust had a terrible stain around the image. Because of the condition of the artwork, the piece was often overlooked at auctions. Will had faith that the art could be restored and called on Ginny’s expertise to do just that. “I reached out to my colleagues to confer on the project, as I often do, and then I came up with a treatment plan,” says Ginny. “Lo and behold, I did fix it, and they now have a jewel of a piece of art.”

Ginny holds to two tenets in her work. First, do no harm, and second, try to make all treatments reversible. She does not want to permanently alter the original art. If a painting has lost a lot of paint, Ginny will consolidate and clean the piece, put an isolating coat of varnish on it, fill the loss and in-paint, and then add a final coat of varnish. Her in-painting is sandwiched between two layers of the varnish, for reversibility now and in the future. “In the grand scheme of things, art conservation is very new, starting in earnest around the mid-1800s and changing as time goes by. The emphasis now is on stabilization just in case there is a better technique developed later, and you want your work to be reversed so the new and improved way can be applied,” she says.



While art preservation can help to improve the most impressive of pieces, it is not limited to the Renoir, the Matisse, the Picasso. It also works for the family heirloom that has been passed down from generation to generation or the portrait of the grandfather who served in World War I. Those pieces are far more precious to families than other priceless works of art; therefore, art and heirloom owners must take the appropriate steps to conserve their works.

“Each work of art should be cared for a little differently, but there are two things that all of them need: stable temperature and humidity,” says Alice. “In addition, the art needs protection from chemical contamination from the air and from inferior framing and storage materials. It needs protection from light, especially UV light.”

All light causes fading, referred to as photo-oxidation. Working with a knowledgeable, professional picture framer is the best source for both information and proper care and materials. Storing photos and drawings in acid-free materials is also important. Acidic papers will stain whatever is against them. If one smokes in the home, paintings will get covered in tar, which discolors the art, sometimes permanently. Simple steps can be taken to ensure that beautiful art — whether purchased, created, or inherited — will continue to bring joy and history for many years to come. And, if all else fails, take it to a conservator and watch the magic happen!


Art in peril: Accidents happen, and Naples galleries and conservators have seen them all


Art in peril: Accidents happen, and Naples galleries and conservators have seen them all

Harriet Howard Heithaus – May 18, 2018


(Photo: Olivia Vanni/Naples Daily News)



William Meek remembers the day a forklift accidentally rammed the crate holding a $20,000 painting in an exhibition he had organized — and went right through the painting.

It was the kind of nightmare galleries and curators dread but that happens in a physical world: “Great art isn’t necessarily immortal art,” observed Meek, curator emeritus at Harmon-Meek and Harmon-Meek Contemporary galleries.

He and other curators and art conservators had heard  — as anyone who reads weekly gossip magazines has — about the 1943 Picasso, “Le Marin,” that was damaged at Christie’s auction house just days before it was to be sold for an estimated $70 million.


Wagner points out some of the pieces he has recently restored at his work studio in Naples, Fla. on Thursday, May 16, 2018.  (Photo: Olivia Vanni/Naples Daily News)


According to several stories, an errant paint roller extension rod leaning against a wall slipped and went through the lower right corner of the painting owned by casino billionaire Steve Wynn. Christie’s has remained silent on the type and extent of the damage.

Of course, any repair work is going to affect art’s value Meek said. “The painting in our exhibition eventually sold for $7,000,” he recalled.

That was after extensive work had gone into repair with restoration experts at the University of Minnesota.

“The painting was oil on Masonite panel and it was cracked in half,” he recalled of the 24- by 36-inch work by Aaron Bohrod, who was known for his trompe d’ oeil and landscape paintings.

Compounding the misfortune was Bohrod’s insistence that the insurance company pays him what he considered full value for his painting. “Full value” can be its own stumbling block, depending on the economy and the reputation of the artist.


The early cleaning process of the 1680’s painting Wagner recently finished restoring at his work studio in Naples, Fla. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Tom Wagner)


The early cleaning process of the 1680’s painting Wagner recently finished restoring at his work studio in Naples, Fla. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Tom Wagner)

Damage from Day 1

The vast amount of damage Morley Greenberg, director at the Marianne Friedland Gallery in Naples, has seen done to paintings isn’t in such freak accidents. Many people in Florida, especially, do their own damage by where they hang the art.

Florida sunlight is especially brutal on prints and watercolors, he said. “It fades your drapes. It fades your carpet. It’s going to fade your art,” he said.

Greenberg and every other person contacted said faded prints generally are a lost cause. Even torn paper can be repaired by a good expert; faded inks cannot.

“I always ask people, ‘Where are you thinking of hanging this?’ ” Greenberg said, warning every customer that direct sunlight is damaging. Even with ultra-violet filtering glass, limited exposure, if any, is best.

Greenberg has another worry for Florida art lovers: power outages. After Hurricane Irma, some art sat for weeks in hot, humid rooms, where humidity can bring out brown mold known as “foxing” on paper and can mold oils and acrylics as well. To avoid the expense of having them removed, Greenberg said all important art should be stored in an air-conditioned room with guaranteed power from a generator or taken with the owner to an air-conditioned location.


An 18th Century painting that was recently restored sits in Tom Wagner’s work studio in Naples, Fla. on Thursday, May 16, 2018.  (Photo: Olivia Vanni/Naples Daily News)


Beware the bubble wrap

Just don’t wrap them directly in bubble wrap, warned Tom Wagner, an art restorer in Naples who has worked with everything from 17th-century pieces, art painted over other art, and damaged paper works in his 30-plus years.

“If the work is exposed to any heat that wrap can melt into it. Some of the worst work I’ve had to do is from bubble wrap,” he said. Wagner suggested putting waxed paper between the wrap and the work to catch any melting.

Wagner has worked as an art conservator for more than 30 years, and he’s faced paintings with significant damage. He’s worked with two paintings that had been rammed by forklifts during a move. He’s the official restorer for the “Highwaymen” paintings by itinerant black artists that are a Southern art legacy. Those, he said, take special care. “They generally used regular house paint,” he explained,  and it could have been nearly any brand, any composition, and quality when it was applied.

The one he has printed on his business card, however, is an 1890 painting of a child holding a cat. A triangular tear had left it without a center, and the torn area was missing. Wagner, who is an artist himself, had to create part of the cat’s face, its neck and the tips of the holder’s fingers. It was a full month of work.

More often, he said, humidity damage and smoke damage are the problems. Even a house with a fireplace can leave your art yellowed. Cracks in the paint aren’t necessarily a problem, he said:

“That’s a sign that it’s an old painting. If someone brought me a painting with hairline cracks, I’d say leave it alone. But if it’s started to peel or flake off it needs attention.”

Both Wagner and Viviana Dominguez, with Art Conservators Lab LLC, emphasize that true conservators make their work completely reversible.

It serves the needs of forensics: If someone needs to take the painting down to the original piece, it can be done, Dominguez explained.


A severely damaged painting before being restored at Tom Wagner’s work studio in Naples, Fla.  (Photo: Photo courtesy of Tom Wagner)


“The materials conservators use age, too,” she said. ” In a hundred years, the technology may change and they may want to restore the paintings with these new materials. So you have to be able to go back to the original.”

Art Conservators Lab has offices in Naples and Fort Lauderdale and works extensively with Florida museums. But Dominguez, who is a qualified National Heritage Responder, has worked directly with badly damaged works from museums in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there, helping to dig out art from under the rubble.

Closer to home, one of her concerns is amateur restoration: “People say, ‘Oh, I can fix that,’ but they don’t know what they’re doing with the kinds of glue they use and what they do to the paint,” she said.

On the practical level

On a practical level, Jack O’Brien, curator for the Naples Art Association, said he learned one of his best maxims in art preservation from the late Sandy Nash, former art curator for what is now The Baker Museum.

“Two hands for the artwork. That helps you concentrate on what you’re doing with it,” he said. He has two other maxims: Don’t pick up a painting by its top frame bar or the hanger wire.

“Some things are framed loosely and you pick up by the top bar, it can come off,” he said.

He’s a firm believer in using clean gloves to carry art as well. “You have oils in your hands. That is being transferred to the art and it’s going to stay there until it’s cleaned off.”

Scots outlaw gets face-lift as damaged Banff painting is restored


Scots outlaw gets face-lift as damaged Banff painting is restored


**Please add details
An iconic painting damaged during an alleged break-in at a Banff cafe has been restored to its former glory.


Crew conserving art


Crew conserving art



Helen Robertson speaking at the Art at Sea Symposium


It will come as no surprise that priceless pieces of art, from sculptures to paintings, feature in many yacht’s collections. Are owners aware that their precious works on board – in some cases, collections that out value the vessel they are placed on – may be depreciating rapidly due to improper care? At last month’s Art at Sea Symposium, much of the conversation centered on the fact that many crews may not be equipped with the knowledge to properly care for the art on board.

There are many elements that can impact an artwork’s condition; the layout of a yacht (the artwork’s proximity to a window with excessive light levels, for example), the temperature, the levels of humidity, vibration and the possibility of encountering water or pollutants. Helen Robertson, senior object and preventive conservator at the National Maritime Museum, spoke to SuperyachtNews to discuss the importance of educating crew about conservation techniques. Robertson, who worked as a chief stewardess for over a decade, first became interested in conservation when she felt obligated to speak to the yacht’s owner after noticing a piece of art deteriorating. “I knew that something was wrong, that the designer didn’t want to change the look and nobody else was going to step in and do anything about it. The last resort was going to the owner and try to explain what was happening.”

Robertson explains that these works of art are often (evidently) aesthetically appreciated by the owners, but also monetarily valued. This, she recalls, was the most effective way to ensure that the piece of art was correctly cared for and repositioned. “The realization that the artwork was effectively being destroyed was enough to make him move it. He didn’t think about it until it was pointed out from a realistic, financial investment point of view that he actually did something. He loved the work, but he didn’t understand necessarily what was happening to it and the damage being done.”

“The realization that the artwork was effectively being destroyed was enough to make him move it. He didn’t think about it until it was pointed out from a realistic, financial investment point of view that he actually did something. He loved the work, but he didn’t understand necessarily what was happening to it and the damage being done.”

The thought-process behind the placement and care of artwork varies between each project. Some owners (and their designers) begin a yacht’s design with the pieces at the forefront of their minds, whereas others do not consider it so carefully. Robertson’s experience on one vessel – where the art was being compromised – encouraged her to do some of her own research on best practices. “Early in my stewardessing days, I worked on one boat that had a sizeable collection but its care was an afterthought. So, that led me to discover the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping to learn more,” she remarks.

The interior crew of a superyacht is trained to an incredibly high level, but the care of art is not often something that is known on board. “I realized that, from a housekeeping point of view, we were trained to clean and to be well-presented, but not necessarily trained to care and conserve. Therefore, finding that manual really helped me understand a bit more, of what was going on, especially with elements that I couldn’t see, and to introduce different practices.”

An appreciation of art and an understanding of the artist’s intent is also important. She recalls an incident where a junior stewardess attempted to pick off original painted cornflakes from a Basquiat painting, potentially ruining it. Another story involved a captain removing the ‘packaging’ from a priceless Christo, where the wrapping was a core part of the artwork itself.

The prevalence of discretion is an issue that is often encountered in the yachting industry, as many owners do not wish – for personal and security reasons – the world to know which artworks are on board. However, this can raise concerns when it comes to artworks that occupy a significance in cultural heritage. Conservators or art experts are often called in at late notice, or when the damage has already been inflicted on a certain piece. If damage does occur, the crew can be reticent to report any harm caused to the piece for fear of repercussions. Further, owners could also fear that damage reported could negatively impact any value of the artwork.

Robertson recommends that yacht has a comprehensive, central management system that details all the artworks on board, their current condition, ownership, and customs status and best methods to care for them. Another method to reduce any potential damage is for each yacht to have an ‘art officer’; a nominated crew member who understands the importance of using the correct materials on board. However, Robertson cites high crew turnover as an issue that yachts could encounter, suggesting that the management company take on this role or external specialist support is sought. “To place that role on an individual on board is hard, especially considering the specialist knowledge required… I know from my time as a stewardess, being crew is a full-time job and adding an extra layer of high-risk responsibility on that is not necessarily fair. Also, you don’t know how long they are going to be on board for… Where does that information go? Is it passed on?”

To combat the issues faced, and to encourage more in the industry to understand how vital it is to understand conservation of pieces on board, Robertson will be working with Pandora Mather-Lees (founder of Pandora Art Services and co-organizer of the Art at Sea Symposium) to develop training courses for the crew. Conservation of artwork and its impact on yacht’s designs and systems will be discussed in detail in the next issue of The Crew Report.

Hidden pages in Anne Frank’s diary: corny jokes and sex ed


Hidden pages in Anne Frank’s diary: corny jokes and sex ed

Toby Sterling – May 15, 2018
FILE PHOTO: Reflections of tourists and canal houses are seen in the window of the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Reflections of tourists and canal houses are seen in the window of the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Anne Frank once taped over two pages in her diary with brown sticky paper, leaving a small puzzle as to what material the Jewish teenager, who had no idea of how famous her diary would later become, wanted to exclude.

Now Dutch researchers have revealed the answer: corny jokes and a summary of her ideas about sex education when she was aged just 13.

“Anybody who reads the passages that have now been discovered will be unable to suppress a smile,” said Frank van Vree, director of the Netherlands’ Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

He said the jokes “make it clear that Anne, with all her gifts, was above all also an ordinary girl.”

Frank and her family hid in a cramped secret annex above a canal-side warehouse from July 1942 to August 1944, along with four other Jews. They were betrayed and arrested by the Nazis in August 1944.

The pages, dated to Sept. 28, 1942, were contained in the red-and-white checkered diary Anne had received for her birthday in June of that year, shortly before they went into hiding.

One joke involves a man who fears his wife is cheating on him. After searching the house, he finds a naked man in the closet.

When the husband asks the naked man what he’s doing there, Anne wrote, the naked man answers: “Believe it or not, I’m waiting for the tram.”

The Anne Frank House photographed the pages with a high- resolution camera and a light shining on them during a regular check on the diary’s condition in 2016. Later, researchers realized the underlying text was partly visible and modern software could probably decipher it.

Anne Frank House director Ronald Leopold said the pages were not really scandalous or surprising, as Frank openly discusses her sexual maturation elsewhere in the diary.

“The only element that might be interesting from the point of view about her development as a writer and as a teenager is the fact that she’s creating, kind of, fiction,” he said.

In addition to the jokes, Anne summarizes what a period is, describes the mechanics of sex in couched terms, and relays what she has heard of prostitution.

“I sometimes imagine that someone would come to me and ask me to inform him about sexual subjects, how would I do that?” she wrote. “Here’s the answer…”

Anne frequently edited and re-wrote her diary entries during the long months in hiding, especially in 1944 after the Dutch prime minister in exile asked in a radio broadcast that people keep records about life during the occupation.

But exactly when and exactly why Anne blocked out the pages will likely never be known.

“She was probably afraid that other people she was hiding with, either her father, her mother or the other family would discover her diary and would read these things,” Leopold said.

Anne died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, aged 15.

Her father Otto was the only member of the family to survive the war. He recovered her diary and had it published two years later. It is now considered one of the most important documents to have emerged from the Holocaust and has been read by millions of people and translated into 60 languages.

Damaged art undergoes intensive care in Berlin’s Bode Museum


Damaged art undergoes intensive care in Berlin’s Bode Museum

The institution is using funds from a private foundation to restore works scarred by war


Donatello’s Madonna with Cherubim (around 1440) before the fire. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst

In the workshop of the Bode Museum in Berlin, Paul Hofmann, the head of the restoration, points to a shiny patch on the arm of the Virgin from Donatello’s terracotta Madonna with Cherubim (around 1440). “That’s all that’s left of the paint,” he says.

A pre-Second World War color photograph shows that it was originally painted in blues and gold; in another old photo, it is displayed in an ornate wooden Renaissance frame. The cherubs’ faces in both pictures are fuller than they are now, and Hofmann speculates that their cheeks may have been filled out with stucco. But neither the stucco nor the paint or frame could withstand temperatures as high as 1,000°C.

Madonna with Cherubim was among thousands of works damaged in two disastrous fires, in May 1945, in a flak tower in Friedrichshain in the east of Berlin, where some of the city’s art collections had been stored during the war. More than 430 paintings were destroyed, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Rubens. Sculptures exploded, marble crumbled to gypsum, and ceramics, tapestries, and ivory, gold and ivory artifacts were lost forever.

Many of the works that could be salvaged—most of them severely damaged—were looted by the Soviet Army’s trophy brigades. In a gesture of solidarity towards communist East Germany, in the 1950s Russia returned around 1.5 million of the 2.5 million plundered objects, including some damaged works from the Friedrichshain flak tower. But not all objects came back—and, in some instances, were only partially returned. For example, Berlin has the head of one Renaissance bust, while its shoulders remain in Moscow.

Donatello’s Madonna with Cherubim (around 1440) after the fire. There are insufficient records to enable a full-color restorationStaatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst
With funding from the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, Berlin’s state museums are restoring 59 works that have been so severely damaged they could no longer be exhibited. For Martin Hoernes, the foundation’s general secretary, “restoration is more important than acquisitions”. He says: “If we were to buy works of this quality on the art market, then we would have to pay several times more than the amount we are investing in restoration—if they were even available.”

Hoernes declined to say how much money his foundation has allocated for the Berlin project, which is one of 240 programmes to receive funding from the Kunst auf Lager (Art in the Depot) initiative. Founded in 2014 and supported by 14 private and public foundations, the scheme has so far awarded more than €23m. The Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation is also funding a scholarly exchange between restorers in Berlin and their colleagues at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, who are facing many of the same problems with works that did not return to Berlin.

The Bode Museum workshop is reminiscent of an intensive care unit. Two standard-bearers by the Italian Renaissance sculptor Tullio Lombardo lie in fragments. When they were created for the mausoleum of a doge in a Venetian church in the 1490s, their youthful beauty and near-nudity sparked a scandal. Restorers aim to mount the sculptures on metal poles so that they can at least be presented vertically.

For the Donatello relief, restorers first removed an iron support frame that had been added by the Russians but which could have corroded the piece. They have repaired the damage to the ceramic’s surface and plan to retouch it. But Hofmann says they will not restore it to its full colors because the photograph does not provide an accurate enough record of the paint to allow replication. The piece is expected to go on display in 2019.

Museum seeks to preserve, restore artifacts

Museum seeks to preserve, restore artifacts


Photo by Sgt. Alan Brutus, Army University PressMegan Hunter, museum specialist, prepares a buffalo hide overcoat used in the Indian Wars, circa 1872, for transport to a conservator April 12 at the Frontier Army Museum. Photo by Sgt. Alan Brutus, Army University Press.

The staff of the Frontier Army Museum face a daily dilemma: the museum’s artifacts continue to age. To minimize the aging process, pieces of the collection are routinely preserved through stabilization or restoration.

“Stabilization is used to secure the object and protect it from further damage,” said Megan Hunter, FAM museum specialist. “Restoration is when a conservator brings the objects back to its original state.”

The most recent item selected for preservation is a buffalo hide overcoat used in the Indian Wars, circa 1872. FAM specialists sent the overcoat to the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha, Neb., April 16 for repairs that include patching small holes, mending stitching and general cleaning.

Unlike the overcoat, it is not possible to stabilize or restore every piece of history.

“Eventually all artifacts reach the end of their lifespan, at which point the U.S. Army Center of Military History in the District of Columbia will determine the outcome of that artifact,” Hunter explained.

Sometimes objects are reproduced when stabilization and restoration are not viable options, which was the case for the four-mule wagon currently on display at the museum.

“A conservator used the Army regulations (‘Specifications for Means of Transportation, Paulin, Stoves and Ranges, and Lamps and Fixtures for Use in the United States Army,’ Washington Government Printing Office, 1882) of the time to reconstruct the wooden portions of the wagon and adhered to the structure measurements and colors,” Hunter said.

Conservation is an ongoing effort at the museum where physical condition and historical significance prioritizes items. Once an artifact meets the preservation criteria, it is prepared and sent for treatment.

“Treatments range from vacuuming something off of an artifact to complete restoration,” said George Moore, FAM museum curator. “Depending on what treatment is required determines the length of time for the process.”

Treatment typically averages two to six months for most artifacts.

Hunter added that proper handling and supports, environmental controls and limiting exposure to light are actions taken to slow the deterioration of objects.

“It is important to care for and treat historical items like those in the Frontier Army Museum collection because they are a learning tool. Whether it’s an exhibition or individualized study, an authentic artifact gives you more information than a photograph or detailed description ever would,” Hunter said.

Museums are not the only place artifact preservation can take place, and many techniques can be done at home to aid in preserving personal items such as uniforms and paperwork.

To learn more about these techniques, join the Friends of the Frontier Army Museum for Museum Night at 5:30 p.m. May 1. During this event, FAM staff will explain preservation methods that can protect family heirlooms.

“We hope that people will understand that half the battle is protecting the artifact before it becomes in need of conservation treatment,” Hunter said.

For more information about attending Museum Night, visit the Friends of the Frontier Army Museum website at