Leonardo Patterson


Leonardo Patterson started trading Precolumbian antiquities in New York during the late 1960s. He first came to public attention in 1984 when he was arrested and charged with fraud for attempting to sell a forged Mayan fresco to Boston collector Wayne Anderson (Nagin 1984). Patterson had been asking $250,000 for the piece, which was accompanied by two photocopied letters of authentication from Donald Hales and Paul Clifford. One year later, in 1985, he was arrested at Dallas-Fort Worth airport and charged with illegally-importing into the USA a Precolumbian figurine and 36 sea turtle eggs. In 1995 he was in the news for supplying a European collector with a bronze Precolumbian brazier that was subsequently recognized to have been smuggled out of Mexico or Guatemala (Honan 1995). In response to a New York Times enquiry, Patterson’s lawyer stated that the brazier had been in Patterson’s possession for almost 30 years.
By 1997, Patterson was in Spain, where his collection was exhibited in two Galician museums as El espíritu de laAmérica Prehispánica. His attempts to sell the collection to the Galician government for €18 million were thwarted when archaeologists warned of its dubious provenance and the possible presence of forgeries. Patterson sued Michael Coe of Yale University and Gillet Griffin of Princeton University Art Museum for defamation when they warned the Galician government that some of the pieces could have been fakes, but later withdrew charges (McGroarty & Olsen 2008).
In 2006, Scotland Yard, working in collaboration with private investigator Michel van Rijn, recovered a gold Moche headdress from the possession of Patterson’s lawyer and returned it to Peru (Conner 2007). Then, in 2007, 31 pieces in Patterson’s collection thought to have been looted from the Mochica pyramid Cerro de la Mina were also returned to Peru. The collection had remained stored in a removal company warehouse in the Spanish city of Santiago since its display there in 1997, but after the successful Peruvian claim in March 2008 Patterson drove it to Munich. On April 30, 2008, police in Munich seized 1,200 of his artifacts (Precedo 2008). Under Spanish law, after remaining on Spanish territory for ten years, the collection had become national heritage and could not be exported without a license. Peru claimed ownership of some of the material, and similar claims were made by Mexico and Guatemala. Patterson maintains that he bought the material in Europe (McGroarty & Olsen 2008).
Nagin, C. 1984. “Leonardo Patterson arrest”, Stolen Art Alert 5 (5), 3
Honan, W.H. 1995. “Art for whose sake? Trading in antiquities; rare Pre-Colombian relics, at any cost”, New York Times, July 31.
McGroarty P. & A. Olsen 2008. “Antiquities dealer has colorful, checkered career”, Associated Press, October 11.
Conner, S. 2007. “Solved: case of the disappearing headdress, the Mona Lisa of Peru”, Independent, January 9.
Precedo, J. 2008. “Intervenidas en Múnich mil obras únicas precolombinas”, El País, April 30.