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Arts and A Dead Man Walking

So last time I was talking about my parents and how they had gotten discouraged with their real careers. They then got into real estate and did pretty darn well for themselves. want to talk about how they ended up with a house full of art.

The story is ...complicated. They’d always been into art, particularly Native American pieces. They’d sent my son birthday presents of Kachina dolls (he still has them. They are way up on high shelves to keep his own kids for dismantling them. Though, I’m sure, he’ll pass them along to his children in due time). And they were always buying Native American jewelry and pottery. So, I suppose, it was only a matter of time before buying and selling.

But what pushed them over the edge was one of those curious events that occur more often in reality than MFA in Writing classes because they are “unrealistic.” It was like this: my parents had a duplex on South Padre Island, Texas--which is a great little beach community, btw. But, anyway, they would go down and spend time in the rear unit of the duplex, while paying the mortgage by renting out the front unit.

About the photos. Several today. First a few shots of pottery and other items that (mostly) came from my parents’ house. I don’t think any of this was the stock of their mysteriously missing renter. That material had been sold shortly before their deaths, or we sold it soon afterwards. Most of this either they bought, or we bought. However, it does show something of the collection.

And, then, second, just a selfie we took in the backyard. Nothing to do with the story, but it seemed fun.

Various people occupied that front unit over the years. When my parents passed on, for instance, it was rented by a very pleasant young gentleman who was an officer in the Coast Guard and was based on the island itself. Before him, there had loads of others, ranging from vacationers to people who simply loved island life and refused to live on the mainland.

Okay...way back in the 1990s...their tenant had been an odd fellow who dealt, it seems, in Indian art and artifacts...among other things. Just what those other things might have been was never clear.

All of a sudden, this tenant disappeared. I mean, he was simply gone. One day he was living in the apartment, and sign of him. The rent stopped coming. The phone was never answered. Mail piled up. Just...poof.

What happened to him? Don’t know. But, there were stories that he got into things he shouldn’t have gotten into. Some people said that he was competing with people who he should have left very much alone. And remember, the town of South Padre Island is just a short drive from Matamoros, which was the capital of the Cartel Del Golfo, which was at that time one of the most feared drug cartels in the world.(1)

Did the tenant get somehow mixed up with them? I hope not, because if he was, then there’s a good chance that he’s now somewhere at the bottom of the Gulf Of Mexico. But I tell myself he just ran off to avoid taxes or something.

Anyway, he was gone... so, my parents drove down to SPI and opened up the apartment. It was full...full!...of Indian art ... and a few artifacts. Pottery, ceramics, arrow heads, axe heads, wall hangings, jewelry...tons of jewelry...and on, and on, and on.

What, they wonder, do they do with it all? They searched, but their vanished tenant seemed to have no family, or at least no family that was interested in him or his possessions. So, after a bit, they rented a U-Haul trailer, and off it went to fill up their house in Albuquerque. And, for lack of anything to do with it, they started selling it online...particularly on e-Bay.

I ought to take a moment to talk about something. If you’re reading this, and you know anything about the fascinating but sometimes shadowy world of collectors and collections, then the hair on the back of your neck is rising slowly. You are asking yourself “Just exactly where did that tenant get his wares? In particular, what were the ‘artifacts’ and where did he get them?” Which is another way of saying, “Was it grave goods?”(2)

That’s a good but scary question. Fortunately, I can tell you that my parents did their level base to track down the origin of the man’s material. (And yes, he left records.) As near as anyone can tell, it was all obtained from legitimate, legal sources. The art and other works were purchased from modern craftsmen. The antiques and antiquities were bought from companies which specialized in the moral acquisition and marketing of such things.

So, no grave goods and nothing illegal (whew)...


There were, however, several pieces, particularly the stone axe heads, which proved to be fraudulent. My father was warned by a friend that this could be the case. He then purchased a microscope and examined the pieces in question. Sure enough, he saw flashes of red...meaning that they had been worked with copper tools, meaning that they were counterfeit.

Strangely enough, this didn’t make them less salable. If you are very clear as to what they are...marking them, as my parents did, as “reproductions, not the real thing”...then people buy them for paperweights and decorations, and they’re perfectly happy with their acquisitions.

But, by this time, my parents had been bitten by the art bug. Pretty soon, they started buying and selling on their own account, and then, in partnership with some old friends, they started a shop.

And, voila! They were in the art business.

Which is where things, as usual, got complicated.

More to come.


1. See “Gulf Cartel,” I’ve heard that the cartel has fragmented and is composed of competing sub-units. Honestly, I don’t know. And, equally honestly, I’m not sure I want to find out.

2. I’m using the term “grave goods” here to mean things like pottery and offerings taken from the graves of Native American people. Unfortunately, the looting of Indian grave sites, and the sale of items found in those burials (including human remains) represent a significant but illicit industry in the country. And, you can go to jail if you’re caught with grave goods.

Here’s some resources: “The Endless Robbing of Native American Graves,” by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, Washington Post, July 21, 2021,, and “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act,” Wikipedia,

Copyright©2024 Michael Jay Tucker


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