The owner of a Bisbee antique shop played a key role in the return of a bronze sculpture that disappeared from the Los Angeles Central Library 50 years ago.
Floyd Lillard says he unknowingly purchased about 10 years ago one of three panels of a sculpture known as the “Well of Scribes.” He only recently confirmed his suspicions that it was part of the larger piece that disappeared from the library in 1969. The other two panels are still missing.
“It’s been pretty fun getting it back to where it goes,” said Lillard, owner of Miners & Merchants Antique Center at 7 Main St. in Bisbee. “I’m glad I didn’t sell it or anything like that.”
The panel was returned to the library, where it was unveiled Oct. 4.
He said he bought the panel from a woman in Sierra Vista, which is about 30 minutes from Bisbee, for $500. He doesn’t remember her name and believes she was originally from California. He told The Arizona Republic on Monday that he was going to hunt through his old receipts to try and find her name and information.
Lillard said he had received offers on the panel but moved the piece to storage, out of sight of customers, so he wouldn’t be tempted to sell.
“I can recognize something good when I see it, not always, but usually,” said Lillard, who’s been in the antique business for almost 50 years.
He estimated the panel is 12 to 14 inches tall and five feet long. The Arizona Daily Star reported the panel weighs 250 pounds and is more than an inch thick.
The sculpture, depicting writers from different cultures, vanished when the library underwent a renovation, according to The Associated Press. The story of its disappearance was revived in Susan Orlean’s 2018 novel “The Library Book,” which inspired a California magazine to investigate the missing sculpture’s whereabouts, The Associated Press reported.
Alta magazine published an article in July titled “Cold Case: Whatever Happened to the Well of the Scribes?”
In the article, people had different theories as to what happened to the library panels: in a house somewhere, melted down for money, or in limbo in a storage yard.
Lillard said Orlean’s book led him to suspect he had one of the Well of Scribes’ missing panels. His suspicions were confirmed after looking at a photo of the sculpture published in Alta magazine.
He contacted the Los Angeles Central Library, and head librarian John Szabo flew in to authenticate the panel. Lillard later received $1,000 from the library as a gift for returning the piece, he said.
“He was very excited to get it back,” Lillard said. “It’s back in their hands now. If we reunite the rest of it, there’s gonna be a heck of a party, and I want to be there for it.”
Szabo told The Associated Press the discovery has given him hope that the other two panels might turn up.
“Up until now, we thought (the sculpture) might have been destroyed or was in someone’s backyard,” he said.
“We just didn’t know if it would ever be found.”
Alta magazine is searching for the remaining two panels to “reunite the Well of Scribes once and for all.” Tips can be sent to: email@example.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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