Granada resident Peder Kolind is not an archeologist or cultural anthropologist by trade, but to suggest that he collects pre-Columbian artifacts as a hobby is like saying Imelda Marcos “dabbles” in shoe collecting.
The Danish-born entrepreneur and sevenyear resident of Granada is the owner of Mi Museo, a private collection of pre-Columbian artifacts recently named the best museum in the country in a nationwide survey conducted by the Commission of Popular Culture.
The museum, a collection of some 5,500 ceramic artifacts from 500 B.C.-1550 A.D, mostly from Granada and the surrounding area, is the largest collection of its kind in the country. And Kolind’s high-tech digital registration database, which has digital photographs and information on all the pieces in the museum for anyone to come in and study, has become an international model for cataloging and registering collections.
“This is not just a museum, it’s also a library of artifacts,” Kolind explained during a recent tour of Mi Museo, which rotates its exhibit every three months and is free to enter.“Anyone who wants to study an artifact can come in, look through the database and then go into the storage room and find the piece to study. I don’t know of any other museum in the world that lets you do that.”
Kolind, perhaps the city’s leading philanthropist, first became interested in pre- Columbian artifacts around five years ago, when a friend showed him an old piece of painted ceramic. He says he decided to start a collection of artifacts as a way to “preserve the cultural identity of the Nicaraguan people.”
Kolind said his experience running Carita Feliz, a Granada charity that provides education and 2,200 daily meals to underprivileged children, has taught him the importance of cultural identity to poor people, and he wanted to do what he could to help preserve that.
So Kolind put the word on the street that he was willing to pay good money for pre-Columbian artifacts and ceramics that people had in their homes. He told people to bring their pieces by his downtown Granada home every day at 2 p.m.
It didn’t take long for word to spread, and for the lines to form outside his door each afternoon.
Six months later, Kolind owned a pre-Columbian ceramic collection of 2,388 pieces – a collection larger than that owned by the NationalMuseum.
Kolind’s collection efforts also attracted the attention and suspicions of government authorities. On Aug. 6, 2002, 30 police officers showed up at Kolind’s house to arrest him on allegations of smuggling contraband.
Under Nicaraguan law, it’s legal to own private collections of pre-Columbian artifacts, but illegal to move them out of the country.
Though Kolind insisted he had no intention of exporting the artifacts, he was thrown in jail and his collection was confiscated.
“They told me that no normal person would collect this much if not for export,” Kolind said.
But the 2,000 children of Carita Feliz, the direct beneficiaries of Kolind’s first philanthropic endeavor in Granada, quickly came to his defense, marching through the streets of the city and banging on their empty lunch plates.
The pressure in the street was enough for then-mayor Luis Jeronimo Chamorro to go down to the jail personally and let Kolind out.
“I was in jail for only three days, but that was more than I ever wished to be,” Kolind says now with a laugh.
In the meantime, Kolind was free, but his collection was still held captive by the government.
After three more years of court cases and lawyers’ fees, Kolind finally got his case brought before the Supreme Court in September 2005.
The court eventually ruled unanimously in his favor and the authorities were ordered to return his collection.
In the meantime, Kolind, who made his money inventing home-surveillance security systems, became impatient waiting for his collection to be returned to him, and was ready to open his private museum with or without artifacts. So in December 2005, Kolind opened his museum with nothing except empty glass cases on display.
Curious passersby would walk past and see what looked like a museum that had been robbed.When they asked what it was, Kolind would happily invite them in and give tours.
“I called it the world’s first museum of invisible pieces,” he said. “I gave tours and told people to be careful not to bump into anything.”
Today the pieces are on display and the relations between Kolind and the government have improved dramatically. Kolind says he recently had a meeting with the new Sandinista Minister of Culture, Luis Morales, who told him that the government is very interested in what he is doing to preserve culture in Nicaragua – a pillar of the new administration.
And Kolind has offered his services to help the government achieve its goals, in a show of public-private cooperation.
Kolind and his team of archeologists and anthropologists have offered to help register the collections of other museums – such as that of Granada’s San Francisco Convent – and are offering to map all archeological sites in the country using GPS. Kolind said he is also offering the municipal governments his services to go investigate any new construction sites to determine whether or not they are sites of archeological importance.
“We can be anywhere in the country within 48 hours,” he said.
As if the museum work weren’t enough, Kolind is also involved in a slew of other ambitious projects to benefit Granada, including: a shelter for battered women, a new downtown artisan market and convention center (under construction), a new sports academy to teach soccer to young men, a new Carita Feliz facility and theater, which will be the largest theater complex in the country (under construction), and a 100-unit low-income housing development for the poor.
Kolind also has a very hands-on approach to helping the poor of Granada; he personally signs off on many people’s pharmacy bills to pay for medicine for the poor.
“I was fortunate to make a lot of money, and now I just want to feel useful,” Kolind said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world, and most people don’t realize it.”
Mi Museo, located on calle Atravesada, across from the BanCentro, is open six days a week and the entrance is free.
For more info, visit the www.granadacollection.org, or call 552-7614.