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Sculptor Says Fake Pre-Columbian Replicas In Many Museums

April 26, 1987 GMT

XALAPA, Mexico (AP) _ Brigido Lara, whose pre-Columbian replicas were withdrawn from a Dallas museum when found to be fakes, said Saturday he made thousands of such pieces which are probably in museums all over the world.

But Lara, 47, head restorer at the University of Veracruz Museum of Anthropology in Xalapa, said it was never his intent to pass his replicas as authentic pre-Columbian artifacts.

On Thursday, the Dallas Museum of Art announced three of their most prominent pre-Columbian pieces were not 1,000 years old, but rather were thought to have been made by Lara in the 1950s.


The three ceramic sculptures are all life-size sitting figures and were thought to have been done between A.D. 600-900 by the Totonaca Indians, who lived in central Veracruz state. About 125,000 of their decendents still live there.

Looking at a photograph of the pieces, Lara said, ″If you look at them closely, they are copies. The details are differnt than the originals ... the details in the breast decorations, in the shoulder patches and so on. They are very different. They are originals of course - my own.″

Lara and Fernando Winfield Capitaine, director of Veracruz museum, estimated the artist produced more than 47,000 pieces since he started copying the Totonaca style at age 12.

″The thing at the time was for me to earn money. I would sell them to others who would sell them to others and so on,″ Lara said in an interview in this Veracruz state capital, 120 miles west of Mexico City.

He said he was inspired by the ancient art form and saw now reason to change it.

″Some of them were copies, and some of them were my own original designs,″ he said. ″The techniques of working the clay and everything else is the same as it was then and the style too. These are things I feel deeply inside me.″

Lara said he fashions his sculptures with the same tools and techniques used by the ancient Indians, including the use of dried corn husks and a wedge-shaped piece of wood. He said the pieces are fired in the same way, using soft wood and corn husks for a low, even heat and hardwood for the tougher black clays of the area.

It was not the first time Lara’s skills were mistaken by experts as authentic pre-Columbian works.

Lara said he and several friends and relatives were arrested by Mexican authorities in July 1974 and charged with blackmarket dealing in artifacts, a crime punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. He was jailed and several pieces seized as evidence were certified as authentic by experts.

″My lawyers were dragging their feet and they were not carrying out the case properly,″ he said. ″So to convince everyone they were my own, copies of antique pieces, I set down in the jail cell and reproduced in front of them exact replicas of the pieces they had seized.″

Lara said that led to his release in January 1975 with all charges dropped and he has become an ″official reproducer″ licensed by the federal government.

He said his pieces are sold worldwide to musuems and collectors and each is stamped ″offically certified reproduction″ to avoid confusion.

Architect E. Logan Wagner, who discovered the Dallas pieces were copies, said Lara was not involved in any fraud and blamed middlemen who obtained the pieces and passed them off as the real thing. He said several other U.S. museums, including the St. Louis Art Musuem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, had similar fake sculptures.

Harry Parker, director of the Dallas museum, said the pieces were part of the multimillion dollar John and Nora Wise Collection of Ancient American Art, a group of almost 3,000 pre-Columbian pieces given to the museum in 1977 by a group of benefactors. He said the Wises brought the Veracruz pieces from film director John Huston.

Parker said the discovery does not cast doubt on every pre-Columbian piece, but does create substantial questions about Veracruz artifacts.

Litle is known of the origins of the Totonacas, although some scholars feel they may have had their origins in the mightly Olmec culture, which reached its peak in the region between 1200-600 B.C.