Tacoma Art Museum embroiled in legal battle over sale of Chinese artifacts

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TACOMA, Wash. - A Shoreline man and his sister are trying to stop the Tacoma Art Museum from auctioning off Chinese artifacts that were donated more than 35 years ago.

John and Mary Young had a lifelong passion of collecting Chinese artifacts. In 1977, they donated half their collection to the Tacoma Art Museum.

Last June, the museum board voted to get rid of the collection.

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Deborah Horne spoke with the donors’ children who want the items to stay in the Northwest.

“These things are priceless. Like that robe probably had 20 people working on it,” Al Young said.

Young said his parents donated the artifacts to the Tacoma Art Museum believing they would be there to stay.

“They always wanted people to enjoy the Chinese culture and what the Chinese have brought to the world,” Young said.

Young said the woman who runs the museum wanted to find a new home for the artifacts.

“But she also told me that the quality of the whole collection, of 130 items, was only worth $30,000,” Young said.

The museum decided to auction part of the collection.

A third of the collection went for nearly $230,000.

“I felt really betrayed, very betrayed because she misrepresented the value,” said Young.

Young and his sister sued to stop the museum from selling what was left.

“It’s a travesty what the Tacoma Art Museum is doing,” said lawyer Laurie Shiratori.

Shiratori and Shakespear Feyissa told KIRO 7 that they feel so strongly that the Young’s have been wronged and took the case for free.

“It’s important that the museum or this collection stays public. Yeah, this is a gift to Tacoma, to the people of Tacoma, by the Young’s,” Shiratori said.

Young believes the collection should stay.

“What we want is them to stop the auction, bring the items back to the Northwest,” Young said.

The museum released a statement saying the lawsuit has no merit.

Both sides will be in court Tuesday morning.