Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Several friends in the San Francisco area have asked me to post comments concerning the Jolika Collection of New Guinea tribal art at the De Young Museum. The donors, John and Marcia Friede, pledged at least part of the collection as financial collateral against a lawsuit over an inheritance dispute with other family members. Recently, a court in Florida has determined in favor of these family members and agreed that the collection could be seized to satisfy that judgment.

Naturally, residents of the Bay Area are upset over the possibility that this important and comprehensive collection could be broken up and sold off to pay this debt. It has caused enough of an uproar that the city attorney of San Francisco has begun a pre-emptive legal process to keep the entire collection at the De Young. Even the New Guinea Ambassador, Evan J. Paki, circulated a letter that supports keeping this collection intact and at the museum. In part, the letter states:

“Through the entire Jolika Collection at the de Young, my nation has a rich storehouse of New Guinea cultural knowledge and history here in the United States. The New Guinea art pieces and treasured cultural objects are an integral part of our storied cultural history; and the Jolika Collection represents a valuable contribution in this respect. While the people of New Guinea no longer possess the masterpieces in the Jolika Collection, we have come to appreciate the entire Jolika Collection as an extension of our nation’s cultural treasures…”

I am not sure if the other family members have requested that the De Young Museum turn over any of this collection to satisfy the court ruling. If they have, I have not heard of it. I would like to hear from anyone that knows if this is the case.

What has not been mentioned, but I find puzzling is why the Friede’s would offer this collection as collateral in a lawsuit after (or before) donating it to the De Young Museum? If the Friede’s were so concerned about keeping this collection intact, as they continue to indicate, they should not have put the collection at risk.

The few stories in the papers (SF Chronicle and the NY Times) that I have read so far are giving the impression that the other family members in the lawsuit are the bad guys in this saga. I do not claim to understand the complexity of this case, but the Florida court has ruled in their favor and agrees with their position. It would be unfair to “demonize” the other family members just because the fallout of this case may affect the collection at the De Young.

More on this subject, as events unfold…

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