Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Artwork Linked to U.S. Dealers.(Journal North)

Byline: Gary E. Salazar Journal Staff Writer

Claim At Odds With Peru Theft Reports

A Santa Fe gallery owner accused of possessing a priceless 400-year-old altar screen reported stolen from a remote Peruvian village bought the piece last year from a Tucson dealer, according to an appraiser's report.

The same report prepared for Santa Fe art dealer Ron Messick maintains that the piece entered the United States in 1961 as part of a collection from Spain -- a finding at odds with government reports that it was stolen in 2002 from the small Andean village of Challapampa.

A renowned textbook that focuses on Latin American art history, published in 1985, also places the altar screen -- or one like it -- in Challapampa's church and includes a photograph of the piece from the book's authors.

A U.S. Embassy official in Lima, Peru, has said the altarpiece -- which is attributed to renowned 16th century artists Bernardo Bitti and Pedro de Vargas -- was reported stolen earlier this year by Peru's National Institute of Culture. According to the report, the theft was said to have occurred in January 2002 during repair work at the Challapampa church.

Customs agent David Fry of Albuquerque has said it is believed that the piece was smuggled illegally into the United States. …

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