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Arts foundation faces suit over Berlin Wall panels

It's one of the most notable symbols of hope from the 20th century.

The fall of the Berlin Wall meant an end to the Cold War and peace for thousands of Germans too long divided.

Peace is exactly the message the Outdoor Arts Foundation hoped to convey with a permanent installment of a piece of the wall at the St. Petersburg Clay Co.

But recently, the story behind the exhibit has been anything but.

A Tampa man is suing the foundation, saying his daughter never had his permission to sell his pieces of wall. Warren McFadden said he bought the pieces from a friend in bankruptcy over 20 years ago, according to the suit filed with the Pinellas-Pasco 6th Judicial Circuit Court this month.

The foundation rejects McFadden's claims and considers the issue a family matter.

"My client acted in good faith," said Bruno DeZayas, the foundation's attorney.

The lawsuit didn't affect the foundation's planned construction Tuesday of the 10-foot-tall and 8-inch-wide Berlin Wall display at the clay company, which is now open for public viewing.

The foundation acquired the private collection of Berlin Wall sections from Elizabeth Glass in June 2007. Glass, McFadden's daughter, had until now remained anonymous.

In all, the foundation bought about 350 full-sized sections and 89 fragmented painted pieces for an undisclosed sum. Three of the pieces are now going up at the St. Petersburg Clay Co. The other sections will go on display throughout the United States.

"We're hoping it brings more people into our building," said Beth Morean, owner of the St. Petersburg Clay Co. "But we're also trying to add to the culture of our city."

To the best of their knowledge, the exhibit represents the first pieces from the East German side of the Berlin Wall to be permanently exhibited in the United States, said Jay Goulde, founder and director of the Outdoor Arts Foundation, based in Safety Harbor.

"To some degree it's not like one is more valuable than the other," Goulde said. "But what we have is certainly more rare."

McFadden, who lives at Palm Avenue Baptist Tower senior apartments, said he didn't know that the wall pieces were going on display until he saw a published news report. In it, his daughter is quoted as saying she inherited the pieces.

"I'm not dead," said McFadden, 79. "I've never heard of anyone getting an inheritance until someone dies."

McFadden's daughter could not be reached for comment.

But the arts foundation's lawyer said that McFadden's daughter had the legal right to sell the pieces. She received a general power of attorney to care for her father's affairs in February 2005, he said.

"At the end of the day in court, it'll carry the day," DeZayas said.

If McFadden has an issue with his daughter selling the pieces, he should take it up with her — not the foundation, DeZayas said.

DeZayas said he plans to file a response to the lawsuit by the end of the week. He's hoping a judge will dismiss it.

"We have nothing to hide," said Goulde, the foundation's director. He hopes the legal mess doesn't overshadow the importance of the Berlin Wall exhibit.

"We're in this for the long haul," Goulde said. "With any project initiated over a long term period, there will be bumps in the road. However, we do what we do with the highest level of integrity and commitment."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached for comment at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727)893-8828.

.IF YOU GO

St. Petersburg Clay Co.

420 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg, (727) 896-CLAY.

Arts foundation faces suit over Berlin Wall panels 02/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 8:59am]
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