ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A love of art runs deep through the Momaday heritage so, when stolen prints by Native American artist Al Momaday turned up intact in a house marked for condemnation in late January, the family considered it destiny.
The 72 prints, worth $36,000, were found in perfect condition stored inside a portfolio box.
“This is not a normal kind of story,” said Jill Momaday, the artist’s granddaughter. “To have something so precious and so beautiful found in a place like that. And for the officer to say, ‘Wait a minute,’ and bring it immediately to the museum – they all recognized this is something special.”
The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History held the prints for safekeeping until the family could retrieve them on Friday.
The prints replicate four images, and depict a buffalo skull, a Kiowa warrior called “Ghost Rider,” an Apache dancer and a woman Jill Momaday said reminds her of a Kiowa Madonna.
“He was a very spiritual man,” said Jill Momaday of her grandfather, who died in 1981. “And the images he painted were largely from his Kiowa culture.”
Officer Martin Smith with the Albuquerque Police Department said he found the portfolio box containing the prints underneath a broken bed, broken couch and a pile of dirty dishes while accompanying city officials boarding up a house. He said the residence on Kirby and Haines in the Northeast Heights was known as a former meth lab, and a place where people did drugs and dropped stolen goods.
Smith said he has a couple of suspects in mind, but no arrests have been made in the case.
“It’s not just artwork that is valuable on a monetary level, it goes much deeper than that,” said Jill Momaday. “The family, my dad in particular, is so happy and so grateful.”
She said the family has still not determined when the prints disappeared, or from where. N. Scott Momaday, Al Momaday’s son, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and visiting professor teaching Native American literature at the University of New Mexico. He had many of his possessions moved into storage last fall and didn’t discover anything had been stolen until late December.
“We didn’t realize that it was missing until we heard about it in the news,” Jill Momaday said. “Of course, we were all very sad and surprised, but now we’re very happy and grateful to have the artwork back. It’s a good ending to the story.”