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Harter, J. B. (1940-2002)  
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Artist and museum curator J. B. Harter drew and painted throughout his life but only began showing his works soon before he was murdered.

The only child of a doctor and a journalist, John Burton Harter was born on October 7, 1940 in Jackson, Mississippi. The family soon moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where his father established a very successful practice in thoracic surgery.

Harter painted since childhood and pursued his interest in art by earning a bachelor's degree in art history at the University of Louisville and then going on to Louisiana State University, where he majored in studio arts. He continued his studies with graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, Hebrew University (Jerusalem), the University of Vienna, and Arizona State University.

Harter was also interested in anthropology and, he wrote, "attempted to pursue a graduate program in Archaeology and South Asian Studies, thought better of it, and became, ultimately, a museum curator." He joined the staff of the Historic New Orleans Collection in 1967. A few years later he took a job as a registrar at the Louisiana State Museum, also in New Orleans. His meticulous work earned him promotions to curator and, in 1986, to Director of Collections, a post he held until he retired in 1991.

Co-workers praised Harter as an extremely competent and effective leader. Commenting on his work after a 1988 fire that caused considerable damage at the Cabildo, the building housing the museum, his colleague Deena Bedigian stated, "Burt was extraordinary during the Cabildo fire. He could see the extent of the catastrophe but quickly came up with a punch list of things to do. He handled the condition of the whole inventory, the insurance, and everything."

The museum suffered another loss in 1989, this time by theft. Sixty prints from John James Audubon's "Birds of America" series, valued at around a million dollars, and approximately forty other artworks were stolen. Some months later, Michael Moskaluk, who had volunteered at the museum, attempted to sell the Audubon prints in Vermont and was arrested.

Moskaluk, who, it turned out, had also stolen rare books from libraries in New Bedford, Connecticut and Haverhill, Massachusetts, as well as fifty-two other Audubon prints from the Boston Library, attempted to shift the blame to Harter. He claimed that Harter had come up with a scheme to give the artwork to him to sell and "generate money for him as well as myself."

Police were immediately skeptical of the story. It was Harter who had reported the thefts. In addition, and unbeknownst even to most of his friends, Harter was wealthy, having inherited millions after his father's death in 1982. He had used his assets to add to the museum's collections, putting the lie to Moskaluk's claim that Harter had sacrificed valuable pieces for "$500 here, $1,000 there."

Moskaluk was convicted in a 1993 trial and given a fifteen-and-a-half-year sentence. He died in prison in 1995.

Harter was a witness at Moskaluk's trial and was obliged to testify that he had assets of some three million dollars. One of his secrets had been revealed; another--his homosexuality--was generally still hidden.

Harter was known as a painter of abstractions, still-lifes, and landscapes reflecting the vivid and stunning colors of the American Southwest. His landscapes were the subject of a highly successful show at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art in 1999. Art critic Anne Price of the Baton Rouge Advocate praised his work, saying, "The painter manages to convey the feeling of endless space and timeless beauty of a unique arid landscape within the confines of a single canvas."

Harter was also an excellent photographer and produced postcards from his journeys around the globe, on which he was often accompanied by his mother, who shared his love of travel.

It was only after her death in 1996 that he began showing his homoerotic artwork and published a collection of his paintings and drawings entitled Encounters with the Nude Male (1997). In his introduction to the book, Harter wrote, "I have been turning out works of gay-oriented art for nearly thirty years, most of which almost no one has seen."

He also stated that he "came relatively late to gay life at twenty-seven," by which time he had been briefly married and divorced. He "felt like an explorer in new territory . . . [that] itself was changing" as he "witnessed the promise of sexual liberation swept away by the emerging threat of AIDS."

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