Collecting Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Art: On the Case of Enrique Vargas Alfaro, Dealer

Author(s): Laura Wingfield

Year: 2017


In the mid 20th century crates full of Costa Rican antiquities made their way into the United States through the diplomatic immunity of Enrique Vargas Alfaro. Paul Clifford, then a business man in Miami and later donor and curator at the Duke University Museum of Art, purchased works from Vargas in addition to procuring his own pieces from Peru. Clifford's friend Bill Thibadeau of Atlanta and a few of his neighbors enjoyed "block parties" to open the latest Vargas crate and then to divvy up the goodies inside. The Mayers of Dallas and later Denver also purchased pieces from Vargas. As the laws changed against such collecting efforts, some of these collectors also changed their ways, while others continued to procure new pieces and/or to defend these collecting practices. Through several decades of researching Nicaraguan and Costa Rican art (Nicaraguan pieces were often traded into Costa Rica in ancient times and interred there, coming to light in the 20th century through looting), I am slowly uncovering more and more details about the story of how these pieces came to the United States and how this case study fits into the greater dilemma of collecting antiquities in the 21st century.

Cite this Record

Collecting Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Art: On the Case of Enrique Vargas Alfaro, Dealer. Laura Wingfield. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430108)


Geographic Keywords
Central America

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.702; min lat: 6.665 ; max long: -76.685; max lat: 18.813 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15602