Photo: Pappajohn Sculpture Garden

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(c)2019 JS Reinitz

Photos of “Nomade” by Jaume Plensa at Pappajohn Sculpture Park in DesMoines. Below is from the museum’s entry on the piece:

Jaume Plensa describes individual letters as components that have little meaning on their own, but blossom into words, thoughts, and language when combined with other letters. Plensa’s letters offer a metaphor for human culture, in which a person alone has limited potential, but when formed into groups or societies, becomes stronger.


Trip shot: Veterans memorial

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  Detail of a veterans memorial in North Platte, Nabraska. Taken shortly before sunset.

Photo: Bull mural

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Old style mural in small town America. Pool hall, soft drinks.

Reader’s corner: Catching up on pulp from the 1930s

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Sometimes it’s difficult to take a novel more seriously than its author.

But Lester Dent sets the bar pretty low.

Dent once described his work  as “churning out reams and reams of sellable crap.” No illusions of literary greatness there from the man who penned the original Doc Savage series in the 1930s and 40s under the name Ken Robeson.

Crap, but enjoyably reading nonetheless.

In a time before TV, reading was still a popular form of entertainment, and Dent wrote for Street & Smith Publications, which was essentially a printing company that needed content to market on the heels of its successful The Shadow stories. Thus was born Doc Savage Magazine, a periodical that in every issue contained about three action-packed novels wrapped inside a cover featuring Doc in a ripped shirt.

The books featured Doc — the man of Bronze, an Indiana Jones character with the gadgets, but not costume, of Batman — and his five Great War (what they called World War I before they were aware of the sequel) veterans traveling across the globe solving mysteries and helping people in distress.

My interest in Doc Savage started about a year ago. I was visiting family in the town where I spent my junior high and high school years, and to kill time we took a nostalgic visit to the Source Bookstore. Growing up, I was a regular at the downtown shop, buying used paperbacks to fill the holes in my Mack Bolan and Remo Williams collections and picking up the odd Kurt Vonegut and Robert Lynn Asprin.

During last year’s visit, we were mainly looking for books for the kids — tomes with animals, architecture, fun stuff at good prices. To round out the stack of purchases, I dug around in the back shelves, which are lined with serial novels and sci-film, television and movie adaptations, and picked out Dent’s (Robeson’s) “Resurrection Day.” It was a used 1960-70’s Bantam Books re-issue with James Bama’s widow-peaked, muscle-bound version of Doc on the cover.

When it first came out, Doc Savage Magazine’s cover price was 10 cents an issue. Bantam’s single-story paperback reprints were 50 cents back in the day, up to $5 on the Source shelves. Still a good  price.

After devouring Resurrection Day, I ordered a few more Docs on eBay. Aside from the adventure stories, I get a kick out of the historical references and dated futuristic predictions in the  pieces. The crew always has some before-it’s-time crime fighting tech, like night vision goggles, portable alarms and a dust that uncovers recent footprints by reacting to vibrations in the ground.

Doc followed by his five-member crew.

Doc followed by his five-member crew.

Here are a few observations:

— Air travel. Doc’s fleet includes a large Spruce Goose style airplane packed with all the equipment he may need, and he even owns a state-of-the-art auto-gyro helicopter. But air ships still plays a big role in some of the stories.

— Communications. Much is made of the team’s ability to make long distance calls on the desk phones during investigations. There is also a nation-wide hook-up to make announcements over every radio station at once, and newspapers have morning and afternoon editions.

—- Mercy me. You can’t have a great pulp action novel without a few gunfights, but Doc and his crew opt for the less-lethal route. They pack “super firer” machine pistols that spit out “mercy bullets” that knock out opponents. The guns also fire exploding bullets when they need to break things. Hypodermic needles filled with miracle sedatives and sleep gas spewing grenades round out the arsenal. Most of the death in the books comes from the bad guys killing each other or getting caught up in their own traps. Punishment of captured criminals involves a trip to crime college where they are deprogrammed to resist criminal impulses and have their memories wiped so they can start anew as productive citizens. The word “lobotomy” doesn’t appear in the books.

— Dream team. Planning to take on the worst humanity has to offer? Apparently your team should include:
An archaeologist/geologist. Ok, you’ll be going to exotic locales, sometimes exploring ruins, and there may be mummies involved at some point. I guess that makes sense. Also, Howard Carter had discovered King Tut’s tomb a mere 10 years earlier.
An industrial chemist. Useful for the knockout weapons and high-tech crime-fighting stuff.
An electrician. Why not? See chemist above. Today’s equivalent would be the computer whiz/hacker character.
An engineer. Huh?
An attorney. Did I mention the attorney has a sword cane? With a blade dripping of non-lethal knockout poison.

— Super man. Doc has genius-level intelligence and great strength, and his real first name is Clark. And he has a fortress of solitude in the North Pole. And he calls it the “Fortress of Solitude.” Sounds like another hero who started making his rounds in the 1930s. At any rate, Doc and his polar retreat came first.

Carnival ride art

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Cigar store statue used as a figurehead on a pirate ship ride. (c) 2014 J.S. Reinitz

Cigar store statue used as a figurehead on a pirate ship ride. (c) 2014 J.S. Reinitz

Fairs and carnivals offer a variety of options for photography. At night, they are perfect for capturing the rides’ bright lights using a tripod and slow shutter speed. Rain and gloomy weather are excellent for getting foreboding shots of Ferris wheels cast against ominous clouds.

Last week, it just so happened that the weather was perfect, so I concentrated on shooting the bright colors of the artwork while my kids binge rode the rides.

Picasso restrained

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I wasn’t really sure how to restrain a painting, but apparently the folks at Immigration and Customs Enforcement figured it out. It was a Picasso, and everyone knows there is nothing worse than an unrestrained cubist painting of a fruit bowl (seriously that’s what it is, you just have to look closely), especially if it’s tied up in an Italian tax dodge scheme.

Speaking of which, Picasso’s unrestrained name is actually Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. He shortened it because it took too long to sign his paintings.

Read more from ICE below:

US restrains 1909 Pablo Picasso painting valued at $11.5 million
June 24, 2013

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today restrained the 1909 Pablo Picasso painting “Compotier et tasse” – estimated to be worth $11.5 million – on behalf of the Italian government. This action follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland Security Investigations.

The restraining order was obtained in response to an official request by the government of Italy, pursuant to the Treaty between the United States and the Italian Republic on Mutual Legal Assistance in criminal matters for assistance in connection with its ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution of Gabriella Amati. Amati and her late husband, Angelo Maj, were charged by the Italian Public Prosecutors’ Office in Milan with embezzlement and fraudulent bankruptcy offenses under Italian law, and Italian prosecutors have obtained a restraining order for the Picasso painting in connection with the criminal proceeding.

According to documents filed in the Italian criminal proceeding, Amati and Maj, in collaboration with a public official of the City of Naples, Italy, employed various schemes to misappropriate tax receipts collected for Naples by companies the couple controlled. In addition, the Italian prosecutors alleged that Amati and Maj orchestrated a number of schemes to embezzle Naples’ tax revenue including the use of fraudulent service contracts, forged accounting records, inflated operational expenses, and fraudulently claimed refunds to Naples taxpayers, all to justify transfers to the couple’s own bank accounts of the taxes that were collected for the city, resulting in a loss of approximately 33 million euros ($44 million) to Naples.

On May 21, HSI special agents in New York located and recovered the painting, which was being offered for private sale in the amount of $11.5 million.

An application to enforce the Italian restraining order was filed June 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking to restrain the Picasso painting belonging to Amati and Maj and located in New York City. U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska granted the U.S. government’s application and issued a restraining order prohibiting the removal, sale or disposition of the Picasso painting from the court’s jurisdiction. The United States is working in close cooperation with the Italian Public Prosecutors’ Office in Milan, the Justice Department’s Attaché in Rome and HSI Attaché Rome to forfeit the painting in an effort to repatriate the Picasso to Italy.

“Restraining this valuable artwork is an effort to help recover some of the estimated $44 million that this couple stole from the tax-paying citizens of Naples,” said ICE Director John Morton. “We are very pleased that our investigation has led to the recovery of this painting that is so significant to the Italian people. This is an example of the fine work of our HSI cultural repatriation special agents. We will continue our efforts to return stolen antiquities to their rightful owners.”

The U.S. enforcement of the Italian order is being handled by Assistant Deputy Chief Jack de Kluiver and Trial Attorney Jennifer Wallis of the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Asset Forfeiture Unit Chief Sharon Cohen Levin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Magdo of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, HSI New York, HSI Rome and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.

In Italy, the case is being handled by the Italian Public Prosecutor’s Office in Milan and investigated by the Guardia di Finanza police service.

New push to solve 1990 art heist

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After more than 20 years, the FBI is launching a new initiative in an attempt to close the 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Two men disguised as police officers entered the museum, tied up the security guards and swiped more than $500 million in art. Officials said they believe the loot — 13 pieces including works from the old masters — was taken to Connecticut and Philadelphia as part of an attempted sale. Below is the FBI release with details on what to look for and how to collect the $5 million reward.

FBI Provides New Information Regarding the 1990 Isabella Steward Gardner Museum Art Heist
March 18, 2013

The FBI, along with Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, released new information about one of the largest property crimes in U.S. history—the art theft from the museum more than two decades ago. The FBI is appealing to the public for help in what is one of the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes.

The publicity campaign includes a dedicated FBI webpage on the Gardner Museum theft, video postings on FBI social media sites, publicity on digital billboards in Philadelphia region, and a podcast. To view and listen to these items, visit the FBI’s new webpage about the theft: http://www.FBI.gov/gardner.

The FBI believes it has determined where the stolen art was transported in the years after the theft and that it knows the identity of the thieves, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, revealed for the first time in the 23-year investigation.

“The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region, and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia, where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft.” DesLauriers added, “With that same confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.” After the attempted sale, which took place approximately a decade ago, the FBI’s knowledge of the art’s whereabouts is limited.

Information is being sought from those who possess or know the whereabouts of the 13 stolen works of art—including rare paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer—by publicizing new details about the case and continuing to highlight the $5 million reward for the return of the art. Although the FBI does not know where the art is currently located, the FBI is continuing its search, both in and beyond the Connecticut and Philadelphia areas. “With this announcement, we want to widen the ‘aperture of awareness’ of this crime to the reach the American public and others around the world,” said DesLauriers.

Anthony Amore, the museum’s chief of security, noted that the reward is for “information that leads directly to the recovery of all of our items in good condition.” He further explained, “You don’t have to hand us the paintings to be eligible for the reward. We hope that through this media campaign, people will see how earnest we are in our attempts to pay this reward and make our institution whole. We simply want to recover our paintings and move forward. Today marks 23 years since the robbery. It’s time for these paintings to come home.”

“The investigation into the Gardner Museum theft has been an active and aggressive effort, with law enforcement following leads and tracking down potential sources of information around the globe. Over the past three years, I have visited the museum several times, and each time I entered the Dutch Room and saw the empty frames, I was reminded of the enormous impact of this theft. I do remain optimistic that one day soon the paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway, as Mrs. Gardner intended,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “As we have said in the past, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will consider the possibility of immunity from criminal prosecution for information that leads to the return of the paintings based on the set of facts and circumstances brought to our attention. Our primary goal is, and always has been, to have the paintings returned.”

The FBI stressed that anyone with information about the artwork may contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the museum directly or through a third party, said Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, who is the lead investigator in the case and a member of the Art Crime Team. “In the past, people who realize they are in possession of stolen art have returned the art in a variety of ways, including through third parties, attorneys, and anonymously leaving items in churches or at police stations.” Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

Stolen art: Games of Ur

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For this week’s stolen art report, we are featuring board games from Ur, in what is now Iraq. The National Stolen Art File has some neat photos of a missing game board plate inlaid with shell depicting ritual scenes and animals and another shell inlay piece that looks like a d6 (six-sided dice, or all non-gamers).

Aside from the pictures and the stats, there is no other information about the stolen games. Our best guess is they were swiped in 2003 when the Iraq’s national museum was ransacked during the war, but stolen Iraqi artifacts have been known to go back further. In fact, in 2001, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized 300 Cuneiform clay tablets headed for a New Jersey gallery and determined they were from Iraq and not Dubai, as stated on their customs documents. They tablets at the U.S. Customs House at the World Trade Center complex and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, recovered from the ruins, according to ICE officials. The tablets were returned to Iraq in 2008.

Included in the 2008 repatriation was a copper Sumerian foundation peg figurine (traditionally buried under temples to establish the patronage of the ruler who built it) from the Third Century BC that had been stolen from the Iraqi museum during the first Gulf War and auctioned off in New York.

As for the missing games, here’s what we know:

Vital Stats

Board Game Description: Stolen Category: Board Games Maker: Ur, Iraq Materials: shell Additional Information: game board game; animals. Plate inlaid with shell depicting ritual scenes

Dice Game Description: Stolen Category: Board Games Maker: Ur, Iraq Materials: shell Additional Information: game board game; dice

For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room 3247 Federal Bureau of Investigation 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20535


Stolen Art Wednesday: Silver Ship

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Photo courtesy of the FBI

This week’s stolen art spotlight is a
little behind schedule because we have been busy and the ship came in late.
Which brings us the missing object of the week — the only item currently
listed in the FBI’s National Stolen Art File under the “boat” heading. It is
actually a little silver model of a sailboat with wheels.

doesn’t offer any background on the missing ship, but our research shows it was
likely one of 10 German Silver pieces swiped during a burglary at the Royal
Museum of Art and History in Brussels, Belgium. The burglars used a duplicate
key to enter after hours on night in February 1997 and make off with $1.3
million worth of silver and ivory object dating as far back as the 16th Century,
according to a Reuters article.

Vital Stats
model of a boat, Augsburg, 16th-19th Century
Description: Stolen

Category: Boats
Maker: Germany
Materials: silver
33.50 x 32.50 cm
Period: 16th-19th century
Additional Information: boat;
model sailboat

For more information and to report recovered objects in
the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Ave.,
Washington, DC 20535

Stolen Art Wednesday: The big guns

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Photo courtesy of the FBI National Stolen Art File.

For this week’s Stolen Art Wednesday, we brought out the big guns. Well, we didn’t actually bring them out. The big guns are, after all, missing.

The FBI’s National Stolen Art Files has a category labeled “cannon,” and that category currently has a single entry. It’s for a 3-foot long bronze piece from the 1700s marked by a winged mythical creature. The file has few details, and our scant attempt to research the theft was a dud. We did find mentions of stolen cannons in Charleston, S.C., and in Romulus, Mich. (links are below). There was also a report of a missing cannon turning up in Georgia and another item about a someone trying to sell a stolen antique bronze cannon at a scrap yard.

Here is the Stolen Art File info on the piece pictured above.

Vital Stats Description: Stolen Category: Cannon Maker: Materials: bronze Measurements: 36 in Period: 18th century Additional Information: cannon Cast in relief on the top of the cannon, directly above the trunnions, is a figure of a winged lion, possibly a griffin. The “button” or knob at the breech of the cannon is noticeably off-center when viewed from the back.

Other stolen cannon reading:

Charleston, S.C. — In a city famous for cannon attacks, thieves roll away an antique cannon that had been used to draw customers to a treasure store in the historic district.
Georgia — Cops uncover a stolen cannon during an unrelated investigation, government agencies argue over who gets it.
Romulus, Mich. — Cannons are swiped from a business where they were to be reproduced for educational copies.
For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program,

Room 3247

Federal Bureau of Investigation

935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20535

Stolen Art Wednesday: Dracula’s Ring



This week’s stolen art feature is coming early because we have a special Halloween treat.

You can’t get more Halloween than Dracula, so it was quite a surprise when we found Dracula’s signet ring listed on the FBI’s stolen art database. The FBI didn’t have a lot of details, so our research department had to do some digging to see how a ring from the 15th Century Romania wound up on the bureau’s hot list.

First some background. The vampire we know as Dracula from the novel and movies was based on Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler, a real-life prince from the Wallachia region of what is now Romania. In the 1400s, the area was ground zero for Europe’s struggle with the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III was the son of Vlad II of the Order of the Dragon (Dracul), a group sworn to protect Christians. Vlad II became a pawn in the conflict, and his dad handed him and his brother off to the Ottoman sultan in exchange for support of his reign (so much for that oath to the order). What followed next was a series of backstabbing, shifting alliances and purges that ended with Vlad III on the throne and people he disliked — Saxon settlers, Turkish goon squads — at the top of pointy sticks. After being deposed twice, he was eventually assassinated, and his grave site remains a mystery (rumor has it his head was sent to Constantinople, and what was supposed to be his grave yielded only horse bones).

So, about the ring.

Fast forward some 500 years to the 1950s when an art historian named Vlaicu Ionescu, a Romanian, bought three signet rings (signet rings have raised seals that officials would press into hot wax on important documents to signify their approval) purported to have belonged to royalty from the 14th and 15th Centuries. One of the pieces allegedly belonged to Vlad II, Vlad the Impaler’s father. Ionescu fled the then-Communist regime in the 1970s and wound up in Queens, N.Y.

Then, in August 1989, robbers posing as cops seeking an appraisal handcuffed and beat Ionescu, then age 67, in his apartment and made off with the rings and a painting entitled “Barbadori Holy Family with St. John and St. Elizabeth.” The Barbadori piece is a 1516 painting by Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto.

Although Barbadori is worth $3 million, newspapers keyed in on the Dracula connection. An Associated Press article, which ran in a number of papers, quoted New York detective who seemed doubtful of the Prince of Darkness connection, offering ”That’s like saying ‘We found the true cross up on Forest Hills.” The tabloid World Wide News ran the headline “Thieves make Dracula mad” next to a stock photo of actor Frank Langella as Dracula.

We weren’t able to find any subsequent coverage of the heist apart from the FBI entry. Also elusive is any photo of the signet ring. The FBI listing says it bronze with the hoop made by four cables, a round projection on each shoulder. The bezel has a raven with a cross on its tail which is heraldic coat of arms for Wallachia.

Vital Stats Vlad Dracul Voevod (King) of Valachy signet ring Incident Type : Stolen Crime Category : rings Materials: bronze Period: 15th century Additional Information: ring raven. Vlad Dracul Voevod (King) of Valachy, the historical figure on which the legend of Dracula was made. Bronze, the hoop made by four cables, a round projection on each shoulder. On the bezel a raven with a cross on its tail.

For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room 3247 Federal Bureau of Investigation 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20535

Stolen Art Wednesday: Okinawan crown

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Above: Black and white photo of stolen Okinawan crown, courtesy of the FBI.

This week’s stolen art centerpiece from the FBI’s National Stolen Art File is the crown of the Sho Royal Family of the Ryukyu Kingdom (also known as Okinawa). It was manufactured by Chinese Imperial Workshops and is described as a rounded helmet with gold bands running front to back studded with beads of coral, crystal, jade and glass. Helmet is pierced by a gold hairpin with a knob on one end.

According to officials, a number of Okinawan artifacts were reported missing following fighting on the island during World War II in 1945. They had been stored at Nakagusuku Palace near Shuri Castle, and when battle neared, palace employees hid some of the valuables in a ditch. When they returned, the palace had been torched, and the artifacts were gone.

Vital Stats
Description: Stolen
Category: Other Jewelery
Maker: China
Materials: gold, coral, crystal, jade, glass, silk
Measurements: 18.40 x 21.80 cm, y: 14.60 cm
Period: 18th-19th century
Additional Information: crown Okinawa; Japan; royalty

For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room 3247 Federal Bureau of Investigation 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20535 Fax: (202) 324-1504

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