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Originally published Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 10:44 AM

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James Castle artwork found in home in dispute

A judge this week will decide who owns three bundles of artwork by James Castle found tucked away in the famed artist's home and potentially worth thousands of dollars.

The Associated Press

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BOISE, Idaho —

A judge this week will decide who owns three bundles of artwork by James Castle found tucked away in the famed artist's home and potentially worth thousands of dollars.

Artwork by Castle, who lived in a northwest Boise home until he died in 1977, is collected worldwide. Individual pieces have sold for as much as $50,000.

Jeannie Schmidt purchased Castle's home in 1996. Four years later, she found 150 pieces of art and three books Castle worked on as early as the 1930s hidden in his bedroom ceiling, according to The Idaho Statesman (( http://bit.ly/HxCBPq).

Schmidt said the trove belongs to her now, and that Castle's niece, who died in 2007, had told her as much when she bought the home. The only true owner was Castle or possibly his sister, Schmidt argued, and both are dead.

But Castle's family, who created a partnership in 1996 to manage and sell his artwork, argue they are the rightful owners through "gift, inheritance and conveyance."

Castle was born deaf and mute. The self-taught artist's drawings were made with a sharpened stick dipped in soot and saliva. Some are in collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

James Huegli, Schmidt's lawyer, told Ada County Judge Deborah Bail during opening arguments Tuesday that Schmidt purchased the home partially because it was owned by Castle, and that the family partnership never claimed ownership to other items she found.

He claimed the family threw a party with pizza and beer just before the "rotten old house" sold because they were happy to have it off their hands, giving away pieces of Castle's art to guests.

Dave Lombardi, attorney for the James Castle Collection limited partnership, said the other items Schmidt found were not art but odds and ends used by Castle to create art that the family didn't care about.

The trial was expected to take three days. The ruling may hinge on a 2001 Idaho case suggesting that the finder of any lost or abandoned property can keep it unless it's against the wishes of the "true owner."

"This case is about who gets to keep and sell mislaid Castle family property that was found by somebody other than the true owner," Lombardi said.

Lombardi said Castle told his sister, Peggy Wade, just days before he died that all of his work was hers, and the true owners now are the family members in the partnership through inheritance.

With both Castle and Wade dead, any true ownership has since expired and no one can speculate what Castle might have wanted, Huegli argued.

"In this case, the true owner is James Castle. But he is dead," Huegli said. "What was James Castle thinking (in the 1930s)? He very well might not have wanted anyone to have that art."

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com

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