The Museum of Northern Arizona has filed suit against art dealer Steven Diamant of Santa Fe, NM, demanding an accounting of the proceeds from sales of 21 pieces of Navajo textiles and Southwestern oil paintings deaccessioned by the Museum’s former Board of Trustees in 2002. The litigation was filed in Coconino County Superior Court in Flagstaff, and seeks imposition of a constructive trust and rescission of the transaction on grounds of fraud.
The former Board of Trustees resigned in 2003 after a donor challenged their actions and filed a complaint with the American Association of Museums, resulting in the museum’s loss of accreditation.
This week’s legal action was unanimously approved by MNA’s new Board of Trustees. In its lawsuit, the museum alleges that the dealer made misleading representations to the former board about the significance, condition and value of the pieces that he himself helped select for deaccession. MNA claims he preyed upon the former board in a time of turmoil and financial distress when it was without a professional museum director.
Among the twenty-one works of art deaccessioned in 2002 were: nine oil paintings of the Southwest, including two by Edgar A. Payne and one by Maynard Dixon; a Maynard Dixon drawing, “Lone Hopi Priest”, donated by the late U S Senator Barry Goldwater; a Frederic S. Remington drawing; and eight Navajo weavings, six of them by Hosteen Klah, a Medicine Man and outstanding male weaver who applied sandpainting designs to his rugs.
Robert Breunig, recently-appointed director of MNA, issued the following statement:
"This legal action was taken by the museum board only after a careful examination of the facts. The board believes that this broker abused the museum's trust for his own considerable financial benefit, causing serious damage to the museum in the process -- not just financial harm, but also loss to MNA's irreplaceable collections and damage to its hard-earned reputation built up over more than seven decades. The filing of this action underscores the present board's commitment to protect the museum's collections and maintain the trust of past, present and future donors."
Founded in 1928 as a community effort by a group of Flagstaff citizens, the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) is a private, nonprofit institution that was originally established as a repository for Native American artifacts and natural history specimens from the Colorado Plateau. Over its 77-year history, MNA has evolved into a regional center of learning with collections, exhibits, educational programs, publications, and research projects that serve more than 60,000 people each year.