The Lost Windfall of the Colpo di Fortuna Due

City Desk IconThe last will and testament of world-renowned sculptor Oliver Henry Munro (1913 – 2007), whose 1940 masterwork Colpo di Fortuna was credited with inspiring insurgents who liberated Ethiopia from Italian fascists, awarded his follow-up piece, Colpo di Fortuna Due, to his grandnephew Gilbert L. Carroll, a resident of our city’s South Side, and long-time employee of the city’s Department of Sanitation. Munro’s six-meter (19 ft.) wood, steel and canvas structure was a fixture on the grounds of the Huntington Library & Museum in San Marino, California, where it was on permanent exhibition until the artist’s death last April. The Huntington Gallery was unable to reach a financial agreement with Gilbert Carroll to continue its exhibition, and in June the piece was shipped by train to a warehouse near the 17th Street Pier.

There it would wait while Carroll negotiated its sale with museums, galleries and foundations from around the globe. Offers ran well into the multiple millions, until it was decided to auction the piece to the highest bidder some time after the first of the year. Before the auction details could be finalized, however, Gilbert Carroll was killed in a boating accident on Labor Day. Carroll was a bachelor, with no known living relatives, and in his will – last updated in 2005 – he left his entire estate to the city. At the time it was notarized, Carroll’s estate consisted of a small, two-bedroom house in the Industrial District, a white 1990 Plymouth Sundance, a small collection of “antiques” salvaged from 34 years of refuse collection (appraised at 2250 dollars) and “any and all other items of value.” That final clause allowed the city to claim title to a 20th century sculptural masterpiece, and to potentially collect a financial boon approaching eight figures.

Carroll’s household possessions were to be inventoried and appraised by the city, but assessors found only the home itself remained intact. Records were discovered showing he had sold his car and antique collection to finance the cost of shipping “Colpo II” from southern California, along with six months rental on the building in which it was to be stored. The rental agreement had complete address information of the warehouse’s location, and thus a delegation of officials from the mayor’s office, the City Treasurer, Deputy Police Commissioner Leonard Arroyo and City Historian Clara McNee made their way to 17th Street on September 13, 2007, to view Gilbert Carroll’s unexpected largesse. What they found instead was an empty room. Had the million-dollar masterwork been stolen? An investigation was launched immediately by Deputy Police Commissioner Arroyo.

Commissioner Arroyo could have saved himself the trouble of the six-week investigation that followed “Colpo II’s” disappearance had the original delegation included an official from Gilbert Carroll’s old department, the Department of Sanitation. As it turns out, the shipping company Carroll hired to transport the piece had not secured it properly and a particularly stiff breeze off the river caught the canvas portion of the structure as it was being unloaded, causing it to collapse into a heap of indistinguishable debris. The moving men then attempted to hide the evidence of their negligence behind the warehouse building under a tarp. Two days later, during their regular weekly rounds, city sanitation workers hauled the detritus of Munro’s ruined masterwork away to the city’s recycling center at 19th Street and Harrison Road.

The disaster was not a complete loss, as the steel from the piece had been resold by the city to Lear Manufacturing for a tidy $2500, or roughly the amount the city would have received from the sale of the car and household items missing from Gilbert Carroll’s estate.

At no point were plans shared or made with the Ragnot Museum of Art, which, sources say, has made for quite a bit of bitterness in the grand Beaux-Arts structure on Pottman Drive.
- David Andrews

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