ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – An Albuquerque officer searching a former meth lab stumbled upon artwork by late-American Indian artist Al Momaday that was worth more than $30,000 and likely was stolen, police said.
Police said the officer found the valuable prints last week during a protective sweep of the condemned apartment right before city official were to board up the property. Authorities say the building was deemed uninhabitable for two years following the discovery of a methamphetamine lab.
According to police, the officer spotted an art portfolio case containing Momaday prints on the floor. The officer googled Momaday’s name and discovered he was a Mountain View, Oklahoma-born Kiowa painter who died in 1981.
“Knowing this, and knowing all the history about this apartment, I knew (whoever) left this property behind had no lawful reason to be in possession of this (artwork),” the officer wrote in his report.
The officer took the prints to an Albuquerque Museum curator who valued them at $33,000.
Investigators believe the art might have been stolen while on loan. They are still trying to determine who it belongs to and what to do with it.
Momaday’s paintings depicting his Native American heritage have gained international acclaim and are featured in galleries around the country. He also created plaques for Albuquerque churches.
A teacher, Momaday married Natachee Scott at Jemez Pueblo and helped bring Native American art lessons to New Mexico.
He is the father of N. Scott Momaday, the first American Indian to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature.
An assistant to N. Scott Momaday told the Albuquerque Journal that the author believes some items were stolen from him during a recent move to Santa Fe. However, he wasn’t sure if those items included artwork by his father.
In recent years, the abandoned building where the prints were found had been used as a drug den and a place to store stolen goods, authorities said.
No arrests have been made. The case remains under investigation.