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Cowboy sculpture turned over after Gilbert man alerts FBI

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Posted at 11:08 AM, Aug 30, 2023

A bronze cowboy sculpture found in an Arizona man’s estate and believed to be in the FBI’s National Stolen Art File is now in the hands of the FBI.

Arlin Cook, who inherited the art from his brother-in-law’s estate, contacted the FBI recently to tell them he was in possession of what he believed was stolen artwork. He said two agents arranged to come to his Gilbert home Tuesday morning.

“They were very nice, very polite,” said Cook, who signed paperwork giving the FBI possession of the two-foot-tall sculpture.

The piece was on the mantle of his brother-in-law’s Scottsdale fireplace for more than 30 years, he said. But no one thought to inquire about its history.

Cook’s brother-in-law died last year.

The family recently started researching sculptures because they thought the piece looked valuable. In their online research, they found a video and story about missing art the ABC15 Investigators had done in May.

The sculpture of a missing cowboy looked very familiar to them. Cook believes the sculpture he inherited is the one taken in 1985 from the Mammen Gallery II in Scottsdale.

New Mexico artist Gordon Snidow made a series of sculptures in the early 1980s, showing a cowboy dressed in chaps, sitting and taking a break. He called the sculptures “Just a Pinch” after a tobacco company’s slogan: “Just a pinch between your cheek and gum.”

The stolen sculpture in the FBI file is listed as being No. 20 out of 40. The piece Cook inherited has the artist’s signature etched on the base as well as the numbers “20/40.”

Cook isn’t sure how the art ended up in his brother-in-law’s home, but once he realized it was likely on the FBI’s list, he said he knew he had to return it.

"That's always been our goal, just to get it back,” he said.

He hopes sharing his experience inspires others to do online research about any mysterious art they may have in their homes.

“I think, if anything, if it’s not yours, get it back to the right person,” he said.

ABC15 reached out by phone to Snidow, the New Mexico artist, who is 86 years old and lives with his daughter, Chris.

Snidow confirms that the sculpture was made by him but says they were unaware the art had been stolen. Their records show he sold the sculpture to an art gallery in 1983, two years before the FBI reported it stolen.

The FBI declined to comment on the investigation.

Email ABC15 Investigator Anne Ryman at  anne.ryman@abc15.com, call her at 602-685-6345, or connect on  Twitter and   Facebook.