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Stendahl Art Galleries Records: Guillermo Echániz Correspondence

Letter 1: October 22, 1940

Getty Research Institute (2017.M.38) Box 11, Folder 9


Los Angeles, Calif

Oct 22,1940

Dear Bill:

The enclosed copy of a letter I received from my New York dealer[1] speaks for itself. I told this gentleman that I had a written guarantee that these Urns were genuine pre-Columbian Urns.[2] This is a hell of a thing to get into just when I am establishing New York connections, and it just gets me to wondering whether you yourself are a victim or whether Aguirre[3] had planted those Urns on you. I have been told that Aguirre is one of the biggest fakers in Mexico and has a very bad reputation.

Have been waiting for several days to get a detailed report from New York and will shoot it down immediately. You say that Spratling[4] is still in New York -- I am just wondering. This man[5] will have every expert go over his things so you see how careful you have to be.

Arensberg hasn’t been around yet although I am not depending upon him for any more business.[6] This is what a man gets for giving a customer some real fine bargains. His money was supposed to come in this month and my New York dealer’s note was due the 15th but payment was refused. This might set me back a few weeks in paying your note of Nov 1st.[7] I was depending on that New York money to send you the first check but now the situation has to be cleared up immediately.

Included in my note I had $125. for the stuff from Papantla. You also agreed to put the Turkey piece in with the price of $2250.,on the garden objects.[8] You evidentally forgot that. However, we will make adjustments at the proper time.

The things are distributed in the room now and look swell. I have given 3 or 4 lectures with the colored slides I made last spring and everyone seems to get a great kick out of the illustrated talk.[9]

The frescoe, of course, had one-third of the adobe still on it and God knows when I will ever get it put together as most of the pieces had jumbled up and mashed as they were not held securely in the plaster of paris.[10] I hope there is some chemical that will remove the colored stain. It is practically impossible to put the pieces together when so much of the color has been destroyed by the analine dye from the tin foil. It will take me several months more work to accomplish this. I don’t see how we can expect to pay Aguirre when he didn’t do the work of taking the adobe off.[11]

The large piece at Tampico must be a dandy - hope you get it.

I will get after these Eastern names and bring them in as new customers. We need some good new ones.

It looks like a landslide for Willkie[12] but I know this won’t interest you.

Will write just as soon as I receive more details from New York about the fakes.

With kindest personal regards,



1. Karl Nierendorf (1889–1947) was a leading modern art dealer based during this era in New York City (see his Biographical Notes).

2. The allegedly fake Zapotec urns (also addressed in the letters dated November 2, 1940, November 11, 1940, and November 13, 1940 included in this Research Guide) caused a serious but surmountable conflict at what appears to be an early stage in the professional relationship between Stendahl and Echániz. April Dammann recounts this story in Exhibitionist: Earl Stendahl, Art Dealer as Impresario (Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2011), 133–134. 

3. Porfirio Aguirre (1889–1951?) was a Mexican archaeologist best known for his discovery of the “Máscara de Malinaltepec” (see his Biographical Notes). Earl Stendahl’s comment in the following sentence likely refers to the politically-charged debate over the authenticity of that mask.

4. William Spratling (1900–1967) was a U.S.-born silver designer and collector of pre-Hispanic art based in Taxco, Guerrero (see his Biographical Notes).

5. It is unclear if the reference to “this man” in this sentence points to Spratling or Nierendorf.

6. Walter Arensberg (1878–1954) was a prominent collector and patron of the arts whose Hollywood Hills estate served as a gallery and art and literary salon (see his Biographical Notes). Not only did Stendahl and Arensberg continue to do business together, but they became next door neighbors and close friends. See: Ellen Hoobler, “Smoothing the Path for Rough Stones: The Changing Role of Pre-Columbian Art in the Arensberg Collection,” in  Hollywood Arensberg: Avant-Garde Collecting in Midcentury L.A, Mark Nelson, William H. Sherman, and Ellen Hoobler, eds. (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2020), 343–398.

7. As Stendahl and Echániz were building their businesses together, they were often strapped for cash, especially as both men were building houses to serve also as their galleries (see their Biographical Notes). Echániz needed funds to buy pieces from Mexican collectors or to finance new digging or extraction of pieces, and Stendahl needed funds to buy objects from Echániz. Stendahl sought various ways to access money for those purchases. One was to sell his stock of American, European, or pre-Hispanic art to collectors and museums. Another was to borrow money from banks or individuals. The references to a “note” or “notes” in this and other letters concern promissory notes that served as paper documents of monetary loans with set deadlines for repayment. The references here indicate that Echániz accepted promissory notes from Stendahl and that Stendahl accepted promissory notes from other dealers as initial payment for purchased or consigned items. When Nierendorf refused to pay because the urns were deemed fake, Stendahl was left without the cash needed to settle his own payment obligations. Many copies of these promissory notes are preserved in the Stendahl Art Galleries Records.

8. “Garden objects” or “garden pieces” is a term that Echániz and Stendahl used to refer to a class of objects that were generally made of stone with rough surfaces, which both dealers kept in the gardens of their respective gallery-homes (see their Biographical Notes). The term appears in their letters and Stendahl’s stock books.

9. The practice of taking photographs of both acquired and potentially acquirable objects will play a large role in Stendahl and Echániz’s business, not only for internal communication and inventory cards, but also for presentations (slideshows and otherwise) to prospective buyers. This marketing strategy remains in use by traffickers and dealers today, though it has also become a liability for them: these photos, when seized, are utilized by researchers and law enforcement to support investigations and prosecution (Tom Mashberg, “Michael Steinhardt, Billionaire, Surrenders $70 Million in Stolen Relics,” New York Times, December 6, 2021).   

10. This commentary brings to light the destruction that took place when murals were removed from the walls of the Teotihuacan compounds, and the fact that Echániz, Stendahl, and others were experimenting with how to remove, pack, ship, and restore them. The “frescoes” discussed in this selection of letters include at least two from the Tetitla compound and one from the Atetelco compound, all likely looted from Teotihuacan c. 1939–1942. The two from Tetitla are now in the collections of Dumbarton Oaks (PC.B.062, the so-called “Net-Jaguar Mural”) and the Denver Art Museum (1965.202). Earl Stendahl sold the Net-Jaguar Mural to Robert Woods Bliss in 1941 (Inventory Number 579 found in Inventory Book). His son, Alfred (“Al”) Stendahl, sold the other to the Denver Art Museum in 1965 (Inventory Number 1538 found in Stock Book and Inventory Book). The Atetelco Mural is now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1950-134-404). Earl Stendahl sold it to the Arensbergs in 1950 (this may be Inventory Number 1539 found in Stock Book and Inventory Book; see: Hoobler, “Smoothing the Path for Rough Stones,” in Hollywood Arensberg, 385, n. 264). At least one other mural, now at the Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire/Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis in Brussels (A.AM.48.16.623), was also extracted during this same period, though it did not pass through Stendahl’s hands (see the letters dated November 13, 1940 and August 4, 1941 included in this Research Guide). Additionally, there is at least one other “frescoe” listed in the Stendahl Galleries stock books (Inventory Number 580 found in Stock Book and Inventory Book), and yet more are referred to in other letters from Echániz, suggesting that some mural fragments extracted during this period are either no longer extant; remain unidentified in private collections; or lack definitive links to the looting that took place c. 1939–1942.

11. Again, this refers to Porfirio Aguirre (see footnote no. 3 above, and his Biographical Notes). Echániz later corrected Stendahl regarding Aguirre’s treatment of the mural (see the letter dated November 13, 1940 included in this Research Guide).

12. Wendell Willkie (1892–1944) was a corporate utilities attorney and the presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1940 (see his Biographical Notes). Support for this popular but politically inexperienced candidate weakened as the U.S. inched closer to war.