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Vatican art spirited into Tech museum

Under a veil of secrecy and security, 31 priceless, carefully boxed frescoes comprising the exhibit "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection" were transferred from Rome to Lubbock last week, The Avalanche-Journal has learned.

The exhibit opens June 2 at the Museum of Texas Tech.

Dave Walker, the exhibit's director of media relations, said the exhibit was transported by air "last week" and that all 31 frescoes now are under increased security at the Museum of Texas Tech.

Walker would answer no questions concerning security in force during travel, days of travel or arrival, whether the Continental flight first stopped in Houston, as was expected, or security in place at the museum.

"The art did not arrive via a direct flight from Rome to Lubbock," said Gary Edson, executive director of the Museum of Texas Tech.

Walker noted, "There's a security agreement with both the Vatican and Continental Airlines, and I'm just not at liberty to tell you anything. I can say that the frescoes left the Vatican Museums under armed guard; they were that serious about it. They also were unloaded under armed guard."

Walker said, "One reason I can't reveal anything is they'll probably be leaving the same way they came in."

One of those on board the flight with the frescoes was Fabio Piacentini, described by Walker as "one of the main conservators who helped with the conservation of the frescoes for the past couple years."

A representative with Continental Airlines of Rome also was on board.

Edson indicated that local security was "trained and ready" before the frescoes' arrival, and that his staff already had considered the order and placement of most frescoes.

That said, he added that the Vatican also "sent information about the background of each fresco, a scholarly assessment about the relationship of, say, one fresco to another."

He and Walker both noted all frescoes currently are locked up at the Tech museum, but the mounting process will begin very soon.

The summer exhibit also will include displays of art from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston and the Museo Franz Mayer Museum and Comision Nacional de Arte Sacro in Mexico City. Those pieces of art are not yet in Lubbock.

wkerns@lubbockonline.com 766-8712

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