The Conspiracy Theorists Lose Court Case Round #4 – “CT Proxy #3” Browne v Bugera
In 2009 (Jan 19), the Conspiracy Theorists – acting through another naïve proxy, a pair of amateur art collectors, Dr. Jonathan Browne, and Dr. Julie Witmer, of Ottawa, ON – convinced them to launch a lawsuit against longtime western Canadian Morrisseau art retailer Bearclaw Gallery, of Edmonton, AB, claiming that they had been sold a forgery “Grandfather Speaks of Great Ansistral Warrior 1977.”
Browne claimed, in media interviews, that members of the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society, and other subscribers to the “Conspiracy Theory of Forgeries,” assured him “Grandfather Speaks” was a fake, and convinced him that he had been duped, by a crooked art dealer, into fraudulently buying a work they all claimed was a total, diabolical forgery.
Browne refused to divulge which members of the NMHS told him he had been duped into buying a fake but it is easy to guess. He was an elite patron of the National Gallery of Canada, where Greg Hill was a curator and Ruth Phillips his collaborator on the NGC Morrisseau catalogue.
Phillips and Hill had collaborated before, with Donald Robinson on the notorious Wang episode.
They were also going to wade into another controversy, with eyes wide closed, but in secrecy – in the Red Lake Fiasco.
And, come out looking damn silly – again…
Browne, Red Lake, Wang, the bogus, and clearly wrong-headed, totally unsubstantiated warning to the public about forgeries, after Hearn filed his case…. is there no stopping this pair of Conspiracy Theorists, from making fools of themselves?
Of course they had no independently verifiable evidence for any of it; of course they just heard it somewhere, and repeated it on cue. With friends like these, Browne…
Two passionate Morrisseau collectors offered Browne the opportunity to have a top Canadian scientist evaluate the signature on the back of the painting. They even – can you believe this? – offered to pay for the forensics themselves…
Dr. Browne stubbornly refused and brushed off their offer. A scientist with a Ph.D., refusing to consult fellow scientists? With all the bills paid? The mind boggles.
He preferred taking his advice from one Ritchie Sinclair, who claims to have spent a few months at a Community College, though he admitted, in court, he had not finished his one year course… Not the best move, one would think. For either of them…
Dr. Browne, brusquely brushing aside forensic scientists, chose to listen to his friends among the Conspiracy Theorists.
And so he posted a huge public website warning everyone out there to beware of fake Morrisseaus… Which, to repeat, he refused to have independently analyzed, beforehand, by top Canadian forensic document examiners and handwriting analysis experts… Though the option was given him by passionate Morrisseau collectors who preferred to take their chances of authenticating Morrisseaus with a scientist, instead of idle kaffeeklatch Conspiracy Gossip from the cafeteria of the National Gallery of Canada.
The owner of Bearclaw Gallery, Jackie Bugera, whose mother had been a close friend of Morrisseau, and retailed his art for decades, remained utterly committed to the painting, holding resolutely firm against all comers, that she was no crook, or fraud artist, and stood by “Grandfather Speaks” as a fine and authentic work by the artist.
Note here the huge difference in response, by an informed art dealer from Edmonton, AB, standing on principle and knowledge; whereas the Heffel boys from Vancouver, BC, (Heffel Auction) opted to “cut and run,” when put into the position of supporting a painting they had for sale when someone claims it’s a forgery.
The Courage to Stand on Principle and Knowledge – In fact, to show how careless behavior by art auctioneers damages Canada’s fine art heritage, “Grandfather Speaks” was one of the paintings Heffels had unceremoniously delisted, so leading to the Otavnik v Vadas and Morrisseau lawsuit at about the same time.
And the fact that they dumped it, was now used to affirm, “See, the Heffel boys called it a fake too…”
Unlike the Heffels, Bugera stood strongly behind “Grandfather Speaks,” the integrity of her gallery, her reputation, and her expertise on Morrisseau art, and left no doubt that she regarded the comments Browne claimed were made to him by members of the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society, and the Conspiracy Theorists, as totally lacking in substance or merit and as being completely malicious and defamatory.
But Bugera, like any retailer, hates an unhappy customer, and quietly settled with Browne with a refund, but refusing utterly, to sign any document admitting to wrong-doing, or allowing that “Grandfather” was the fake Browne said the NMHS, and the Conspiracy Theorists all claimed it was.
(The Conspiracy Theorists would not make this mistake twice, and would try to demand exactly such a document, on their next outing with the CT Proxy # 4 Margaret Hatfield lawsuit.)
Part of Bugera’s deal with Browne was that he get his collaborator and fellow Conspiracy Theorist Ritchie Sinclair to remove all – dozens – of Bugera’s Bearclaw Gallery paintings from his malicious and defamatory website.
To show that Sinclair’s malevolence remained undiminished, he put a flashy stop sign where the pictures had been and put her Bearclaw Gallery name prominently above and below each glaring icon, which stated that so many forgeries were available it was hard to chose. And deliberately tried to leave the impression that Bugera was a crook, and was continuing to sell forgeries.
Bugera also asked Browne to remove his malicious and defamatory “Morrisseau Buyers Beware” website, and absent himself from further involvement in the controversy, in exchange. (Alas it was not to be. See below.)
On Apr 1, 2012, one of Canada’s top forensic document examiners and handwriting analysis experts, Kenneth J Davies, found that the painting, which had been the subject of the Browne lawsuit, “Grandfather Speaks of Great Ansistral Warrior 1977,” which had been publicly defamed by the Conspiracy Theorists as a forgery, in fact, had been signed with DNA certainty, by Norval Morrisseau, and that no one else could have.
Foiled by Forensics Part 4 – This, however belated, was the fourth stunning rebuff in a legal suit, as to the reliability of the Conspiracy Theorists, as credible evaluators of what are authentic Morrisseaus and forgeries, including to the ultra-secret Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society. Some of its members were behind a court action they allegedly encouraged Browne to launch – he claimed they alerted him about “Grandfather Speaks” being a fake – without having any independently verifiable evidence of any kind – hey, even Norval was dead.
All the false claims were just backed up by numerous malicious and defamatory charges, made by a number of “anonymous sources” to a pair of hapless – and clearly panicking – victims, Dr. Jonathan Browne and Dr. Julie Witmer.
Loose Lips Sink Ships – The forensic finding also hugely impugned Heffel Auction with its precipitous delisting of numerous genuine Morrisseau paintings, just because its experts didn’t have a clue how to tell a genuine one from a fake, or have the inclination to seek out independent scientific corroboration – either way – rather than just dumping them and permanently damaging great Morrisseau original works in the market place.
We Apologize Wholeheartedly for Our Total Lack of Due Diligence? – We are not aware if Robert or David Heffel have ever apologized to Jackie Bugera or Joe Otavnik for their hasty and improper action, resulting in damage to their painting, their business reputation, and for giving false ammunition to those who chose to maliciously claim “Grandfather Speaks” was a fake.
Note: One can only imagine the private toll this awful experience has taken on Dr. Jonathan Browne and Dr. Julie Witmer, who at the time were listed on the masthead of the National Gallery of Canada, right underneath billionaire Wallace McCain, as elite and proud patrons.
They not only lost, what they now know, is a scientifically confirmed, masterpiece Morrisseau painting they once loved, and now hate… But they also, sadly, appear out of their depth, as hapless dupes, for apparently naively falling for idle gossip by NMHS rumourmongers, probably at an NGC cocktail party.
They have since, removed themselves as listed patrons of the National Gallery of Canada.
Note 2: But not from the Morrisseau controversy. If you can believe this, in 2010 he got a call from Margaret Hatfield who was the owner of a Morrisseau painting she was worried about. Instead of steering her straight to an independent forensic scientist, this Ph.D. sent her into the arms of the same Conspiracy Theorists who had landed him in such a mess.
Thanks to him this little old lady would waste tens of thousands on a lawyer to pursue a fool’s errand, five long days of court costs over two years, on a case she as much as admitted, to a reporter, that she figured she lost and now also faced court costs for the Defendants she had defamed. Tens of thousands of dollars out of a retired school teacher’s pension. On a predictable wild goose chase.
She was opposed by a top Canadian scientist, a forensic document examiner, and handwriting analysis expert, with an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Forensics, who said her painting was a genuine Morrisseau, with DNA certainty.
But she decided believe the same Ritchie Sinclair whose advice sank Jonathan Browne, and put her trust in the opinion of Donald Robinson who has no credentials in art, but a degree in electrical engineering… The mind boggles.
Does she thank Dr. Browne for his advice?
We are not aware if Dr. Browne has sent her his apologies?
He better send cash… She may appeal… What a find, as a Proxy…