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Fresno Daily Republican News Archive - A22

February 12, 1998

Fresno Museum Pays $10,000 Damages
In Pre-Columbian Mural Litigation

By Marc Stone, Daily Republican Staff Writer

FRESNO DESK - The Fresno Art Museum has been ordered by the U.S. District Court in Fresno to pay graphic artist Maxine Olson of Kingsburg, $10,000 for damage to her pre-Columbian art reproduction it had on display there. The Fresno museum accidentally destroyed the work three years ago.

Now, Olson is a folk hero to local artists because of a new law that protects the integrity of art.

Under the requirements of the Art law, the Fresno museum should have notified Olson of its intentions to paint over her mural as part of its redesign of a gallery entryway, San Francisco attorney M.J. Bogatin, told reporters. If Olson had been notified, she might have been able to remove her painting from the museum.

Olson described her work as meticulously researched, taken from a fragment of an ancient Talaocan mural of water gods in the afterlife, a place people went when they drowned.

When Olson visited the Fresno museum less than a year after the work was completed, the mural was gone. 'I just stood there and looked at the wall...I turned around and went home. I was sick to my stomach.'

Olson sued the museum under the new California law known as The Art Preservation Act and the federal Visual Artists Rights Act.

According to Bogatin, the laws are meant to protect artists' rights as creators of a work, and to protect the art from any '...deforming or mutilating change'.

In another such case, Bogatin handled an art preservation claim in the case of murals that graced a San Francisco Chinatown housing development for nearly 15 years.

In 1994, artist Josie Grant discovered that the city whitewashed one of her murals, and planned to remove others. She was awarded $15,000, and a promise from the Housing Authority to cooperate if she wants to create other murals.

Olson has created two murals in the Fresno Art Museum near a display of pre-Columbian art.

One of them, a 10-by-10.5-foot painting, was painted over when an exhibit called 'Earth, Wind and Fire' was placed in the gallery. The Fresno museum director said at the time that the size and bright colors of Olson's mural '...confused visitors.'

Olson's Fresno lawyer, Scott Williams, then sued the museum in U.S. District Court, asking for $10,000 in general damages.

The museum also agreed to notify Olson if it wants to change any of the remaining mural, her lawyers said.

Copyright 1998 The Fresno Daily Republican Newspaper

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