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Priceless Sculpture Returns From Moscow Exhibit Shattered

July 21, 1987

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A porcelain sculpture loaned by the White House for a Moscow exhibit returned to the United States shattered into hundreds of pieces, apparently damaged in transit, its maker announced Monday.

The lifesize ″Birds of Peace″ sculpture was one of three copies made from master molds that were then destroyed in 1974, said Helen Boehm, owner of Boehm Studios.

The shards of broken porcelain were spread out on a table before her at the studio, the slender neck of one bird severed and the arching white feathers of both bluntly broken off. The feathers shattered into hundreds of pieces.

″The Peace Birds are in pieces. They’re completely busted. I’ve been crying for two days,″ said Mrs. Boehm.

The white swans stand 3 feet high and face each other on a 3-foot-long base. The neck of one is extended and the other’s curls inward. Two cygnets, or young swans, stand beneath them on the base, which depicts a natural setting of rocks and grass.

Some 60,000 sculpted lines make up the feathers of the swans, Mrs. Boehm said.

One of the two remaining sculptures is on display in Beijing, given to Mao Tse-Tung by President Richard Nixon during his 1972 China visit. The other is in the Vatican, a gift from an anonymous donor who purchased it in 1976 to benefit world wildlife for $150,000, the highest price paid for a 20th century porcelain sculpture.

″One cannot place a value on them. They are priceless because they are not replaceable,″ Mrs. Boehm said. About half the 48 pieces in the exhibit were damaged in transit.

She said the intricate and detailed sculpture of the pair of mute swans took two years to create, and that 10 tons of plaster were used to make the master molds.

Mrs. Boehm said the swan sculpture was borrowed from the White House for the six-week show, which she opened May 16 with Raisa Gorbachev, wife of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and Vassili Zakharon, the minister of culture.

The show was sponsored by industrialist Armand Hammer, a longtime friend of Mrs. Boehm.

White House spokeswoman Leslye Arsht said Monday night that she had no information about the incident.

The sculpture had been a gift by Boehm Studios to the White House Historical Society in 1975. The copy in China was purchased by the Nxon administration and the Vatican copy was donated for the wildlife auction.

Mrs. Boehm said the pieces were carefully packed by Boehm employees last week for the trip from Moscow. They arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport this weekend.

She said the exhibit was sent to the Soviet Union on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, but returned via Lufthansa German Airlines and Finnair, said Frank J. Cosentino, president of Boehm Studios.

Officals from both airlines had already left for the day and could be not be reached for comment shortly after the close of the business Monday, according to secretaries who answered the telephones.

Cosentino said the shipment was insured, but he would not say for how much.

Mrs. Boehm said the porcelain sculpture of the mute swans was inspired by an encounter she had with Nixon after he commissioned the studio in 1969 for sculptures to bring as gifts to heads of state he visited during a NATO tour.

When Nixon later accepted her donation of a permanent Boehm collection to the White House, a reporter asked whether there were any doves or hawks among the porcelain flock.

Nixon and Mrs. Boehm said there were not. Mrs. Boehm suggested a new bird of peace be named that did not carry the same political baggage as the dove.

Nixon unofficially gave her the assignment to come up with such a symbol, and after several months of research and consultation with experts around the world she settled on the mute swans.

The mute swan represents ″serenity and purity, a bird that had been associated with peace throughout history and in mythology,″ Mrs. Boehm wrote in ″With a Little Luck,″ her autobiography.

″The mute swan’s range is worldwide; it came to the shores of America during the nineteenth century. Perhaps its most important characteristic is that it speaks with a soft voice.″

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