A Native American artifact stolen in the 1990s by a disgraced Wisconsin Historical Society museum curator has wended its way back to the institution’s collection, nurturing a faint but persistent hope that other stolen artifacts might follow.
The sheath is the first to be returned of 116 — now 115 — items listed as still missing and stolen by David Wooley, a curator in the Native American ethnographic and archaeological collections who was convicted of stealing more than $100,000 worth of Native American artifacts. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2001, and the thefts took place during his employment as a curator at the museum in the 1990s.
In January, a dealer in artifacts from Montana called the museum to report he saw the sheath on the museum’s website — which lists the stolen items and includes photographs of 12 of the items — and recognized it as “recalling distinctly this piece in a transaction that occurred several years ago in New Mexico,” said Bourcier.
The dealer knew what happened to the sheath after that, and directed Bourcier to the website of a private New York museum, which had its Native American artifact collection images online.
“I looked at the two images on the screen and immediately knew that was it,” he said.
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